Sermons

Trinity Thirteen (2019)

(St. Luke 10:23-37)

“Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”

A blessing, or a burden? A gift, or a grind?

What am I talking about? Service.

Is stepping out of ourselves to serve others for the glory of God a blessing or a burden? Is it a gift or a grind?

In todays Collect we see that service is a gift from God.

We prayed “Almighty and merciful God, of whose only gift it cometh that thy faithful do unto thee true and laudable service…”

Serving the people of God is one of the greatest gifts God gives to us, His children. It is only by the gift of grace which God gives to us in Christ that we are able to serve others rightly.

Today there are any number of organizations that provide service to the needs of people. Even the government is involved in it. That is not the “true and laudable service” the Collect speaks to.

True and laudable service is service done motivated by the Holy Spirit and administered to the glory of God.

Remove either, or both, from the equation and it is not true and laudable. It’s service and it may be effective to a certain level, but it is not true and laudable.

The Collect speaks to this truth too. We pray we will use God’s grace to do true and laudable service “…that we may so faithfully serve thee [God] in this life, that we fail not to attain thy heavenly promises…”

We do works of service here on this earth with our eyes always on heaven.

If the works we do are done merely for self esteem, to make ourselves feel like “good people,” then we do them amiss.

Again, they may be effective to a certain level, but not to the heavenly level God requires.

Now to be clear, we do not do works of service here on earth to gain or to earn heaven!

ABSOLUTELY NOT!!

As we learned last week from Ephesians 2:10 we are the workmanship of God being recreated in Christ Jesus “…unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them…”

In other words, God initiates the life of Christ in us through Holy Baptism received by faith, which is fed by a life of Scripture, prayer and the reception of the other Sacraments, particularly the Holy Eucharist.

We then take the grace we receive and utilize it in doing works in service to other people; doing them for the glory of God in Christ.

And as we do, as we work out what God has worked in, we secure our salvation.

Not by earning it. But by proving it! By showing it forth.

As St. James 2:18 states it “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (NKJV)

  Understanding this, a reasonable question to ask is “How do I know which good works God has prepared for me to do, to bring glory to Him?”

This morning’s Gospel lesson teaches us the answer.

In the parable, Jesus tells us that the priest and the Levite came upon the man that fell among thieves, and was robbed and beaten “by chance.”

In other words, they were not looking for the man, or even looking for someone to serve. God placed that man and his need right in front of them!

Both the priest and the Levite saw the man. They saw he had been beaten and since his clothes were stripped off of him, could discern he had also been robbed.

And yet they passed right by, even crossing the road in order to avoid him.

Maybe they thought “Well if someone sees me pass by on the other side, I can always says ‘I didn’t see him, I was on the other side of the road and my mind was on other things.’”

Jesus would’ve been pointing this out because the lawyer asking the question was “…willing (wanting) to justify himself.”

If we see a need right in front of us and do not do what we can to serve the one in need, we often find a way to justify ourselves in not doing so.

Jesus says that won’t fly with God. He sees our heart. He knows our motives. He knows when we can, but will not, and when we truly cannot.

  Most often God will have already provided us the means or the ability or the skill we need to do what He has prepared for us to.

But at other times He may ask us to step out of our comfort zone and do something we have not done before; something we must act on faith to do.

In either case we can be all but certain that if God places a need right in front of us, and He has given us the ability to it, and it’s something we can do, it is a good work He has prepared for us to do.

  What we also learn about works in service to God from the parable is that we have to fulfill them all the way; at least to the best of our ability.

The Good Samaritan did not just pick the injured man up and then dump him off at the local inn for someone else to assist him. No.

He used his own oil, wine and linens to cleanse, sooth and bind his wounds; and then took the injured man to the inn and paid for his care, even being willing to pay additionally later if needed.

This is part of what Jesus means when He says “Go, and do thou likewise.”

When God puts a need right in front of us we need to fulfill it.

What we must certainly not do is pass it off one someone else, upon God even, when we know He has given us the ability to meet it.

St. James 2:15, 16 addresses this directly “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food,  and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?”  (NKJV)

If God places a need in front of us, a need we can meet, and we merely say “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that, I’ll pray for you…” when we can do much more; when we can actually meet it, then as St. James says in St. James 2:14 “…can that faith save [us]?”  It’s a rhetorical question.

   Brethren, God “saves” us; He infuses us with grace in Holy Baptism and then feeds us with additional grace through Scripture, prayer and the other Sacraments throughout our lives, in order that we can be used by Him to bring that grace and salvation to others, and in doing so bring Jesus glory.

We are not being saved by ourselves, for ourselves. We are being saved by God, to give Him glory by bringing His grace and salvation to others.

And the main way we show forth the grace and glory God has worked in us is by doing the goods works He has prepared for us to walk in.

Most certainly by meeting the needs He places right in front us and gives us the ability to meet.

May we open our hearts to do true and laudable service in this life, and in doing so obtain the heavenly promise of everlasting life.

Always seeing service to others as a blessing and gift from God. Amen.

 

Trinity Twelve (2019)

(2 Corinthians 3:4-9)

“…but our sufficiency is of God; who hath made us able ministers of the new testament;”

The verse I just quoted from the Epistle Lesson (2 Corinthians 3:6) sets out the primary idea I’d like to address this morning.

And yet I think that idea will be better understood if we back up a few verses in the chapter…Going back to verses 2 and 3 St. Paul states:

Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.”

What St. Paul is saying to the Corinthians, and the Holy Spirit to us, is that we, as Christians are to be living Epistles!

We should be striving to grow in our faith to the point where it is not necessary for us to say “I’m a Christian.” People will just know we are a Christian because of the way we live.

  The Lesson provides three ways we can develop a Living Epistle Life; three things to be mindful of and strive towards.

The first is our self-insufficiency. Verse 5 states “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.”

Living Epistles recognize that we have no ability of our own to be saved or to truly please God. Salvation itself, as well as any good works of salvation we do, are of God and not of ourselves.

Philippians 2:12, 13 states “…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.” Ephesians 2:10 states “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

Because of the sin nature that remains in us after the Fall, there is nothing sufficient within us by which we can merit salvation. We are insufficient!

And, if we try to “tell God” what we think we should do to be right with Him, the works we think are “good enough”, instead of asking and then doing the works He has prepared for us to do, we are off the mark.

In both faith for salvation and the working out of that salvation, we must recognize our total insufficiency and Christ’s absolute, total sufficiency.

If we do not, then we will not be Living Epistles.

The second way we develop a Living Epistle Life is by getting in tune to the Holy Spirit.

Verse 6 states God makes us “…able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit…”

Christianity is not a list of “Do’s and Don’ts” It is a living relationship with Jesus Christ!

If we think “I must be a Christian because I do…..” Or, “I must be a Christian because I don’t do….”

If we think this way, we are again missing the mark.

We are Christians if the seeds of grace infused into our souls at Baptism have taken root and been watered by the water of Scripture and the other Sacraments to develop a living relationship with Jesus Christ guided and directed by the Holy Spirit.

If we lack that relationship, it can still be developed. It can always be developed. But we must put grace into motion today.  

The third way we develop a Living Epistle Life is by recognizing our calling as ministers. This was touched upon last Sunday.

1 Peter 2:9 states God has taken us out of the kingdom of darkness and placed us in His Kingdom of Light to be a royal priesthood, set apart in order to declare the praises of Jesus Christ in this world.

You and I are “able ministers.” We are ambassadors of the Kingdom.

2 Corinthians 5:17-20 states “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.
And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation. Now then we are ambassadors for Christ…”

You and I have been called to be Christ’s ambassadors.

Having been reconciled, by grace, with Him (God in Christ), we are now to be ministers of reconciliation to others.

We are to bring Christ’s life of reconciliation; His incarnation and sinless life, His passion, death and resurrection, His ascension and never ending mediation in heaven; we are to bring all this; we are to bring the Gospel, to others!

As Living Epistles we do this with much more than our words; more so we do them with the actions of our life. Yes, we should know Scripture and be able to offer a defense for it. But more so we should live the Scriptures; its principles and testament in and around the lives of others.

Brethren, God will not compel, He will not force us to be Living Epistles.

But He absolutely offers it; He calls each of us to be one!

And, as Romans 8:29, 30 states, whom God calls, He equips to fulfill that call. Because He is our sufficiency, we will never lack what is needed to be Living Epistles, ambassadors, ministers of the reconciliation of Christ.

I trust each of us here this morning want to be Living Epistles.

So then, let us submit ourselves wholly to the sufficiency of God in Christ.

Let us build an intimate relationship with Jesus; through submission to His sufficiency, through Scripture and constant prayer, and through living what the Spirit leads us through them to do.

And, let us be ambassadors of the Kingdom and ministers of reconciliation; bringing Christ to people and people to Christ.

As we do, we will not only develop, but will be Living Epistles!  Amen.

 

Trinity Eleven (2019)

(1 Corinthians 15:1-11)

“Brethren, I declare unto you the gospel…”

By what means do we define ourselves and what message does our life declare to people around us?

Are we known to be a Christian because our life declares it?

There is no doubt how St. Paul defined himself, nor is there a doubt about what his life declared.

Though he saw himself as the least of the Apostles, he knew he was one, and the message his life declared was the message of the Gospel.

St. Paul was a very learned man. He had studied at the best schools available for a Jewish male of his day.

And yet in 1 Corinthians he writes “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (NKJV)

Though he had the knowledge and the ability to be known in other ways, he was determined to be known in only one; for Christ and the Gospel!

He wasn’t looking for people to know him as Saul of Tarsus. He was looking for people to know him as Paul the Apostle of Jesus Christ.

To the Romans he wrote “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the Gospel of God…For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes….” He had a singular minded life with a singular message.

  How then do we define ourselves and what is our message to those whom we know or come into contact with in our day to day life?

If we were to be asked “Who are you?” (not meaning our name), what would be our instant response? Would it be “I am a Christian!”

If we were given the opportunity to make one statement that would define who we are; the collective legacy of our life, what would we say?  Would it be a testimony of the Gospel?

2 Timothy is believed to be St. Paul’s final Epistle.

It was written to his dearest son in the faith, St. Timothy the first bishop of Ephesus, right before his martyrdom around AD 66.

Knowing his martyrdom was imminent and these were likely his final written words, he lays out his legacy and the message he wanted Timothy to remember from him.

Before “signing off” his final words to his son are “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” (NKJV)

St. Paul’s final words to Timothy were a declaration of a life spent in service to Christ, and a declaration of faith that his efforts for the Gospel were not in vain. What an incredible testimony!

We often hear people say “I want ….written on my grave marker.”

What do we want written on ours?  What would our legacy statement be?

More importantly, what does our life say about us, today?

I don’t mean what do people think about us.

Does it say “I am a Christian?”  Does it testify “I am not ashamed of the Gospel!

We cannot excuse ourselves by saying “Well, I am not an apostle like St. Paul or I am not called to the ministry.” Doesn’t matter.

In St. Matthew 10:32, 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 confess or deny Christ by what we do and what we say in our day to day lives.

Everyone who is baptized into Jesus Christ is called; is in a real sense ordained, to testify for Christ and the Gospel.

How and where we testify will differ according to the gifts we have and the opportunities we’re given, but none of us are exempt.

1 Peter 2:9 states “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (NKJV)

Our baptismal ordination into the royal priesthood of believers has been given for the express purpose of proclaiming the praises of Jesus Christ to the people in our day to day lives.

1 Peter 3:15 states “But [set apart] the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…” (NKJV)

Like a runner at the starting line waiting for the starter’s pistol to sound, or a pitcher waiting for the umpire to say “Play Ball!,” we should always be ready to testify for Christ.

Our lives should already be doing this every day in both the big and more so the little things. And then when we are asked why we do what we do, what it is we believe, or who we are, we should be ready to answer “I am a Christian who wants my life to glorify Jesus Christ my Saviour.”

Because few are willing to testify for Christ today, that answer may shock some. But if our life is already testifying to this truth, no one will push back on it. Some will mock it, but they will not accuse us of being a fraud.

  Christianity cannot merely be something we “do;” a pious hobby.

Being a Christian must be who we are!

If we turn our Christianity on and off like a faucet, then we are not being faithful to the calling Christ has put on our life.

Or, if we are running the faucet with both hot and cold water; lukewarm water, we are not being faithful either.

Our faucet needs to be open!

Yes, at times we need to control the flow, but it needs to always be open and always running the hot water only.

In St. John 7:38 Jesus says “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.”

We believe in Jesus. We have faith in Him. Therefore we have His living water flowing within us.

We need to open the tap handle all the way and let it flow out of us!

May we always define ourselves as Christians and may our lives continually declare the Gospel Amen.

 

St. Bartholomew (2019)

(Acts 5:12-16)

“By the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people;”

Throughout The Acts of the Apostles, we see the Twelve Apostles doing the sort of things Jesus had done in His three year ministry.

They preached the Gospel with great boldness and testified truth before both religious and secular leaders. They healed the sick, ministered to the poor, gave hope to the broken and even raised the dead.

How were they able to do these things? Were they endowed with some kind of super-powers? I don’t think so.

The Apostles received what we all receive in Confirmation.

Each received the Holy Spirit. Each was endued with “power from on high” as Jesus said they would.

That power is not unlike the power we have been endued with too.

At Confirmation each of us was sealed with the Seven-fold gifts of the Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety and Fear of the Lord.

These gifts allow us to produce the Nine Fruits of the Spirit, which Galatians 5:22, 23 list as: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Gentleness, Goodness, Faith, Meekness and Self-control.

Throughout The Acts and in the writings of the Epistles, we see those gifts producing that fruit in the lives of the Apostles and their followers.

This, I think, is why they were able to minister the way they did.

  We are celebrating the Feast of St. Bartholomew today.

St. Bartholomew is known by two names in Scripture; Bartholomew and Nathanael. Matthew, Mark and Luke identify to him as Bartholomew or bar Tolmei, which in Hebrew means “son of Tolmei” (as Peter was Simon bar Jonah; “son of Jonah”). It is St. John that identifies him as Nathanael.

In St. John 1:45 we are told “Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph…”

Philip took Bartholomew (Nathanael) to see Jesus. Their meeting is recorded in St. John 1:47Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

There was a virtue in Bartholomew that poured out of him; a virtue which Jesus saw instantly, the virtue of “guilessness”.

St. Bartholomew was a man without guile.

Guile is not a word we use or hear very often these days. The Greek word is δόλος (dol-los) it means “craft” or “deceit.” A guileful man is a deceitful man; a man who looks as if he is one thing and actually is someone else.

St. Bartholomew was a man in whom Jesus could find no guile; no craftiness, no deceitfulness. He was who he appeared to be.

The Psalms address this kind of man.

Psalm 32:2 states “Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.

Psalm 15 defines this character in detail:

Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill? He who walks uprightly, And works righteousness, And speaks the truth in his heart; He who does not backbite with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor does he take up a reproach against his friend; In whose eyes a vile person is despised, But he honors those who fear the Lord; He who swears to his own hurt and does not change; He who does not put out his money at usury, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.” (NKJV)

The man or woman that has this type of character is a man or woman in whom there is no guile. And the Scriptures say a man or woman that has no guile will be blessed and will abide with God.

We want to be that man. We want to be that woman!

So, I’m thinking the reason we don’t see the type of signs and wonders people in the days of the Apostles saw is too many of us lack their character.

Even if they did not all “sweat guilelessness” as St. Bartholomew did, they each had one virtue Jesus saw in them; the will to totally yield to His call!

In our day the emphasis in Evangelical Christianity is on “choosing Christ.”

That’s not Biblical. We don’t choose Christ, He chooses us! In  St. John 15:16 Jesus states “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit…”

We do not choose Christ, we yield to Him! We surrender to His call of us. And as we do, He will use us to bear the fruit of the Spirit in ministry to others, producing whatever signs and wonders He has prepared for us to do.

Each Apostle did this; they yielded, they left what the world said was important and followed Jesus.

He had chosen them and they surrendered to His call!

Ss. Peter and Andrew, James and John left their fishing businesses to follow Jesus. St. Matthew left a lucrative tax collecting enterprise to follow Jesus. Who knows what the other Apostles and their followers left?

This is the virtue Jesus is looking for more than any other: the will to yield to His call. The will to be converted and become as little children. The will to put Him first over all things. The will to be crucified with Him.

Each Apostle had that will, and because they did Jesus did great and signs and wonders through them!

If we will have that will; the will to yield and follow Jesus in thought, word and deed, He will do great signs and wonders through us too.

Oh, people will not likely be healed by our shadow, but how important is that really? Healing of the body is good; healing of the soul is great!

If we will yield our lives to Jesus, He will work that kind of sign, He will work that kind of wonder through us!

He will use us, you and me, to heal the souls of men and women.

  For this to happen though you and I must become men and women in whom Jesus sees the character He saw in each of the Apostles.

We must become men and women who yield to Jesus fully, the way a child yields to his parents.

We must put Jesus first over all things and be crucified with Him.

This can happen. We have been given the same gifts of the Holy Spirit the Apostles were given. In Confirmation they were sealed upon our spirit.

It’s up to us to be led by grace to yield to them and produce fruit.

As we do, God will use that fruit to do the kind of signs and wonders which heals souls. Amen.

 

Trinity Eight (2019)

(Romans 8:12-17)

“…but ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.”

I have a cousin who is a devout Christian and a medical doctor.

Though he and his wife had two natural children, they adopted two boys, brothers, from Senegal, a very poor nation in West Africa.

Being naturally African, those two adopted boys have the natural features of West Africans. Their skin and eye color, their hair and body types are Senegalese.

But don’t tell them they are not the sons of my cousin and his wife! The way they speak and act, the things they like to do, their character and Christian faith, are all of my cousin and his wife, their adoptive parents.

Nor could you say to my cousin and his wife those two boys are not THEIR sons!  They raised, love and care for those two adopted boys as much as their natural children.

Today’s Epistle Lesson teaches us that by Holy Baptism we too have been adopted…by God.

By natural birth we are the children of Adam, but by Baptism we have become the adopted sons and daughters of God the Father.

The nature of Adam remains in us, but in truth we are the children of God.

No one could convince the Father otherwise!

No one should be able to convince us otherwise either.

Though in many ways we still “look like” our natural father Adam (his spiritual “DNA” remains in us) we should be taking on the character of our Father in heaven and His only-begotten Son Jesus.

We will never be able to change the fact that by nature we are like Adam. We are sinners who sin. And yet we can, and we should, be ever taking on the new nature, the righteous nature, we have received in Christ.

Being adopted, Adam no longer has a right to our soul!

The Epistle states: “For ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear;” We are no longer bound to Adam. We are now bound to Christ.

Romans 8:16, 17 states “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ;”

  By the Holy Spirit, infused into our spirit in Holy Baptism, this is who we are! We are children of God and joint-heirs with Jesus.

And being children and heirs of God, we are to live as such.

Now that they are adults my cousin’s adopted sons could decide to leave their adopted family, return to Senegal and live the rest of their lives in the poverty of that nation. They have the legal right to do that.

You and I can do the same with our adoption. God gives us free will.

We can leave God’s family; the Church. We can leave from the care of our Father in heaven and live our lives in the spiritual poverty of the world, the flesh and the devil.

Of course we should not do this! We owe no allegiance to Adam! As the Epistle states “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh.”

1 Corinthians 20:6 states “For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which (belong to God).

We are indebted only to God. We owe all allegiance to Him!

  As has been said, as the adopted sons and daughters of God we are called to take on the character of our Father and His only-begotten Son Jesus.

As we learned last week, the foundation of this character is holiness. We are to become holy people; men and women after God’s own heart.

But how? The Epistle indicates two things we need to do.

First, we need to submit ourselves to the lead of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 8:14 states “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons (the daughters) of God.”

The Spirit leads us as we pray and study Scripture, as we receive the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Penance), and do good works.

As we cooperate with the grace we’ve been given in Baptism and submit ourselves to the lead of the Spirit, we take on the character of Jesus.

Second, we need to be prepared to suffer with Christ for the sake of the Gospel.

The Lesson concludes saying we are God’s adopted children and joint heirs with Christ “…if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.

Suffering with Christ does not have to mean being thrown into prison or to the lions, or having our head cut off!  In fact in our country, at least for today, that is not the case.

One real way we can suffer with Christ is to press through our aches and pains, and our ever-increasing physical limitations. These are real situations that cause real suffering which we can use to continue to gain the character of Jesus and glorify God as we, as holy people, are called to do.

When we are tired or have a headache, or our back or some other body part ache we can still fulfill our prayer and study time, or get up and go to mass, or call or visit that lonely or hurting person we know, or do that outreach activity we’ve agreed to do.

Another real way to suffer with Christ is socially. We may need to remove ourselves from spiritually unhealthy relationships. We may need to remove ourselves from unhealthy forms of social media. This is painful, both can be addictive, but when necessary it needs to be done.

These are true ways we can suffer with Christ today.

In fact they may be the truest way we can suffer with Him because we usually endure them privately; they are between God and us.

As we suffer with Christ in these or any other way, we take on His character, and in the end obtain the promise of everlasting life.

  Over these past three weeks we have been learning about Holy Baptism and the effect it has on our life from the Epistle Lessons. So, let’s review…

Holy Baptism is the foundation of the Sacramental life and therefore indispensible. The effectiveness of all other means of grace hinges on it.

By it the nature we inherit from Adam in birth is put to death and a new nature, the nature of Christ, is resurrected within us.

We are brought back from death to new life. We are born again!

In being born again, we are set apart by God for His exclusive use. We are holy. And being holy we are called to strive to live a life of holiness; a life that puts God and the Gospel first in all things.

As we do this we will be led by the Spirit to take on the character of Jesus. Taking on His character means living faithfully as the adopted sons and daughters of the Father and may include suffering with Jesus, and as we take on Jesus’ character, we secure the promise of eternal life in heaven.

All of this is initiated in us by Holy Baptism.  It is truly a great gift. Amen.

 

Trinity Seven (2019)

(Romans 6:19-23)

“…for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” 

Let us say (hypothetically of course) we were involved in an accident, and by the time the ambulance got us to the hospital our heart had stopped, our brain activity had ceased and we were pronounced dead.

But then, a few moments later, our brain activity returned and our heart started beating again. We had come back to life!

If that happened to us, how would we live our life from that day forward?

Would we live any differently than the way we did before we had died?  I think we would.

Well guess what…? Each of us has died and has been brought back to life…in Holy Baptism!

You’ll recall this is what last Sunday’s Epistle Lesson stated plainly.

Romans 6:3, 4 states “Know ye not (Don’t you know), that so many of us (everyone one of us) as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death…”

In our natural birth we were born into sin and spiritually dead, but then by Holy Baptism we were brought back from that death into new life; a life of righteousness in Jesus Christ.

From that point we can go back to sin and death, or live in that new life. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life…”

Being aware of the new life we’ve been given in Holy Baptism, how will we live from this day forward?

This morning’s Epistle Lesson tells us how we, the baptized, should now live: “But now being made freed from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness and the end everlasting life.”

Having been brought from death into life we are to live holy lives and produce the fruit servants of God are expected to produce to gain eternal life.

Let’s unpack this further.

By Baptism, God infuses the righteousness of Christ into us and by the Holy Spirit makes us holy. “Holy” simply means being “set apart” for God.

What we are called to do is take hold of who God has made us to be in Christ and live a life of holiness; live a life that gives evidence to the truth we have been set apart by God to be used by Him for His glory.

Holiness wrongly invokes thoughts of being “monk-ish” or “nun-ish.”

This isn’t so, at least not for most of us.

Holiness simply means living the life we live and doing the things we do: as a gift from God, in service to God, and for the glory of God.

Being baptized and thereby set apart for God, we are to live as holy people.

We are to be holy spouses. We are to be holy workers in our employment. We are to be holy in our retirement. We are to be holy in our free time. We are to be holy in all our social relationships. We are to be holy in our use of money and other possessions.

When we receive our lives, our spouses, our employment or retirement, our free time, our relationships, and our money and property as God’s gifts to us, and then use each in service to God for His glory, we are being holy!

There will not be a shiny plate around our head like we see in religious pictures. In fact often the most holy of people are the ones not recognized publicly, but seen clearly by God.

A good Biblical example of very human-holiness is King David.

David was anything but perfect. Yet he was a “man after God’s own heart.”

Psalm 89:20, 21 states “I have found David my servant; with my holy oil have I anointed him: With whom my hand shall be established: mine arm also shall strengthen him.”

With all that David had been given and in all that he did, he sought to glorify God. He was a man set apart for God to use.

Yet David also committed a number of grave sins. The best known is His adultery with Bathsheba and then setting up her husband Uriah the Hittite for death in battle to cover up for it.

He was by no means perfect. But he was truly a man after God’s own heart.

He was truly a man set apart for God; a holy man.

Having been baptized, you and I are called to be like David was.

Not in his sins, but in being men and women after God’s own heart.

We need to receive all that we have been given as God’s gift, and do all we do in His service and for His glory.

Like David we will sin. We are flawed people. Adam’s mar is not completely erased in us.

And when we do sin, we must use the grace God gives in Baptism and the Eucharist, in His Word and through prayer and good works, to repent and strive to keep ourselves set apart for God as David did.

Psalm 139, a psalm the Holy Ghost inspired David to write, is an excellent guide for understanding holiness.

This Psalm teaches there is not a thought we think, a word we say, an action we take or a place where we can go that God is not fully aware of.

Because He has given us free will we can think, say and do as we want, but God is always aware of it.

We become holy people as we consciously recognize and live in this truth and honor God in it. This is called “practicing the presence of God.”

As we practice the presence of God in our thoughts, in what we allow ourselves to watch and listen to, in the conversations we have, in what we do with our private time, with our employment and social lives, and with our money and possessions, then we will find ourselves being ever more aware of God’s presence with us in each of them.

And as we become aware of God in all things; aware of His presence with us and actually within us, then we will find ourselves using what we have been given, and doing the things we do, to serve and give glory to God.

And that is being holy.

  As I said last Sunday, Holy Baptism is an amazing gift from God!

By it we are brought from death to life and are given the grace to be holy people; men and women set apart in our hearts for God’s use and glory.

May we take hold of this gracious gift and live as those who have been brought back from death into a new life…Because it’s true! We have.

Next Sunday we will take one more look at the effect Holy Baptism should have on our life, at that time as it is taught in Romans 8. Amen.

 

Trinity Six (2019)

(Romans 6:3-11)

“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?”

  The Epistle Lesson for this Sunday and next are both from Romans 6 which teaches us the importance and the effect of Holy Baptism.

So, what I’d like to do these two Sundays is address those topics.

Baptism is the foundational Sacrament. It is “indispensible.”

Without it the other six Sacraments have no sure effect.

Jesus Himself sets this foundation in St. John 3:5 where He says “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”

Jesus says that without Baptism we do not have access to the gracious means of His Kingdom and therefore can have no assurance of eternal salvation in heaven.

While God is not bound to Baptism (He can save whomever He wants in whatever way He wants), we (man, the Church) are absolutely bound to it.

It is wrong to say “I know I can be saved without being baptized.”

  You’ll recall from Sunday School that Baptism is the New Covenant fulfillment of the Old Covenant rite of circumcision.

In Colossians 2:11-12, St. Paul states baptism is the “circumcision made without hands” and the “circumcision of Christ.”

Under the Old Covenant God made with Abraham, those who were not circumcised were not including in the promises and the blessings of Israel.

Under the New Covenant God made with Jesus, those who are not baptized cannot make a claim to God’s promises and blessings given to the Church.

Galatians 3:26-29 states “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus… For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. And if ye be Christ’s (if you belong to Christ), then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

What an incredible blessing Holy Baptism is!

By it we are brought into covenant with God and are made heirs of the promise given to Abraham and fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning’s Epistle Lesson from Romans 6 teaches that in Baptism a death occurs. Our death!

Verses 3, 4 state “Know ye not, that [as] many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death…”

In Baptism the sin inherited from Adam at birth is put to death. We are no longer “in Adam,” no longer connected to his sin. Instead we are “in Christ.”

While the effects of The Fall continue to affect us, we now have the power to overcome it. That power is grace, or what is called regeneration.

In Baptism the guilt and penalty for sin we inherited from Adam is put to death; it is forgiven and washed away.

From that day forward, if we do not inherit eternal life it will be our own fault!  We won’t be able to “pass the buck” like Adam tried to do with Eve and Eve tried to do with the serpent.

While we still have the old nature within us, for the fall affected every part of our being, we are given the grace to kill it off as fully as possible while in these mortal bodies.

We can think of it as the old nature being put onto a cross to die, the cross (our cross) Jesus says we are to take up daily and follow Him with.

How much the old nature dies (or if it dies at all) lies within the realm of our free will and our willingness to use the grace we are given.

If we take hold of grace and actively carry our cross, following Jesus to the Golgotha He has prepared for each of us, the old nature will weaken and die.

If we do not act upon the grace given, the old nature will hang around like an albatross around our soul dragging us back time and again towards sin.

Romans 6:11 states “Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed (truly dead) to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This transaction from death to life occurs at Holy Baptism.

  Romans 6:6 states: “Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.”

I think this is an excellent way to understand the death and resurrection that occurs at Baptism.

While the old nature remains within us (as Romans 7:14-24 indicates), we no longer have to serve it.

While unfortunately we will sin, we do not have to live sinful lives.

Sin can become isolated acts we fall into and not something we practice regularly (thoughts, words or actions).

Romans 6:12-14 states this clearly “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”

After Baptism we have to let sin reign in us, we have to yield ourselves to unrighteousness and have to allow it to have dominion over us.

What a wonderful and powerful gift God has blessed us with in the Sacrament of Holy Baptism!

We who, like every person, were born in trespasses and sins have been set free from being compelled by it by Holy Baptism!

We really do not have to serve sin!

We really do not have to yield to our passions and lusts.

We really do not have to be dominated by any sin!

As we act upon the grace we have been given in Baptism, we can repel the old nature of Adam and live in the life of the new nature of Christ.

As Romans 6:7 states “For he that is dead is freed from sin.”

That is us!  We, and all who have baptized, have died in Christ. And having died and been buried with Christ we can now live in His righteousness!

But, we have to act upon this grace we’ve been given.

Romans 6:4 states “…that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

Having died and risen with Christ in Holy Baptism, we need to live like those who have risen from death!

We will pick up on St. Paul’s teaching on Baptism from Romans 6 next week, and (Lord willing) gain insight into the means by which we can live as those resurrected from death. Amen.

 

Trinity Five (2019)

(1 St. Peter 3:8-15, St. Luke 5:1-11)

“…but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.”

Today’s Gospel Lesson provides us four “take away” points.

Let’s look at each of them…

The first is given at the beginning of The Lesson (St. Luke 5:1) “It came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon [Jesus] to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Genesaret…”

Once Jesus started to preach the Kingdom of God was at hand, throngs of people pursued Him to listen, to learn and to be healed by Him.

In this instance Jesus was in the small fishing village of Bethsaida. The crowd was so great that it pressed upon Him, causing Him to enter into St. Peter’s boat so He could teach from a few feet off the shore.

The people so hungered and thirsted for the righteous teaching of Jesus they pursued and pressed upon Him so they could hear Him.

Would we do that? Do we do that?

If we think, “Well, if Jesus was really present I would.”  But wait, Jesus is really present!

Psalm 139 teaches we are always in His presence.

He is really present by His Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us.

He is really present when we read His Word and when we pray.

He is really present when at least two or three gather in His name.

And He is Really Present in a unique way in the Holy Eucharist.

Do we pursue Jesus’ presence in these ways? Do we press upon Him?

We are a mobile people. We pretty much have the ability to travel where we want, when we want.

Our decisions on where we go, and what we do with our time and with energy are most often based upon priority over ability.

In the Lesson, we see the priority of those people in Jesus’ day. We see what they pursued and pressed for. What do we pursue and press for?

  The second takeaway point is St. Luke 5:5  “…Master, we have toiled all night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.”

St. Peter was tired. He had been fishing all night. The type of fishing he did wasn’t casting a line into the water and sitting to wait for a bite. No.

His fishing entailed rowing through the waves and casting heavy, water-logged nets in and out of the water. It was tiresome labor.

But even though he was tired, even though he may have felt a bit burned out, St. Peter obeyed the Word of Jesus and let his nets down one more time.

I was converted 35 years ago. For many of you it has been longer than that.

It is harder to be a Christian today than it was then. Most people just don’t want to hear the Gospel and increasingly people aggressively oppose it.

In order to keep fishing we have to labor harder than ever.

It’s tiresome. At times we feel burned out.

And yet the Word of Jesus is clear. He has told us to Go! Each day Jesus tells us what He told St. Peter “…Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Do we obey Jesus the way St. Peter did?

The third takeaway point is St. Luke 5:8

When Simon Peter saw it [the huge catch of fish] he fell to his knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

Reaching others for Christ begins with acknowledging one important fact: “I am a sinful man (a sinful woman) O, Lord.” If we do not see and believe this, then we will never be effective for Jesus’ Kingdom.

Our outreach will come across as haughty and not humble.

We need to recognize our own spiritual indebtedness to Jesus for our salvation and then express that indebtedness in the actions of our life.

Our salvation is not something that makes us spiritually superior, but something that makes us indebted to Jesus and willing to serve Him.

As we see this, we will begin to feel spiritually responsible for every soul we come in come in contact with, especially those whom we know.

We will see the best way to thank God for our own salvation is to be used by the Holy Ghost in the work of the salvation of others.

When we recognize what St. Peter did about the state of our own soul, and the grace and mercy God has show us, we will want our children and grandchildren, other family members, our friends and co-workers, the clerk at the bank or grocery store, even the person we don’t like very much, to be saved by God’s grace and mercy too.

It will be our humble privilege to have a hand in their salvation.

  The fourth take away point from the Gospel Lesson is its final verse:

St. Luke 5:11 states “And when they brought their ship to land, they forsook all, and followed him.”  This verse ties the whole Lesson together.

Having pursued and pressed upon Jesus. Having heard the Word of Jesus and responded with obedience. And having recognized our own spiritual indebtedness, there is only one faithful response we can have…

We have to forsake all and follow Him! But what does that mean?

Jesus tells us in St. Luke 9:23, 24

If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.”

Jesus taught this right after St. Peter confessed Jesus to be ‘The Christ’, using it to define what that profession means, what it should look like.

Taking up our own cross is a daily, ever-progressing dying to our self; our ego, our wants, our desires.

Following Jesus means seeking pleasure in God over everything in this world; over money, over possessions, over personal comfort.

In the Epistle St. Peter says “…he that will love life, and see good days, let him…” We can finish that statement with “forsake all and follow Jesus.”

Forsaking all is more of a state of heart and mind than a giving up of “things,” and following Jesus is more a state of purpose, why we do the things we do (what is our motive).

We seek what we feel is important to us. We possess what we think has value to us. We do what we think is most fulfilling to us.

To forsake all and follow Jesus is to feel He is most important, believe He is the most valuable and finding our greatest fulfillment is doing what His Spirit and Word lead us to do.

It’s choosing the assurance of eternal security over fleeting earthly stability.

In the 19th century Frances Brook wrote a poem that begins “My goal is God Himself, not joy nor peace; nor even blessing. But Himself, my God.”

What a beautiful way to express forsaking all and following Jesus.

Brethren, we could go deeper into these four takeaway points from the Gospel Lesson, but I think this will suffice for today.  Amen.

 

 

Trinity Four (2019)

(Romans 8:18-23, St. Luke 6:36-42)

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

Earthquakes and hurricanes… torrential rains and flooding…Drought and wild fires.

Wars and mass shootings… Corporate greed…The destruction of the family… Abortion and euthanasia…Deception perpetrated against science and biological fact.

Materialism…ignorance of the Lord’s Sabbath…Adultery, fornication and same-sex perversion…Unforgiveness, rash judgment and hatred…

What is going on here in nature, in society and culture, and in man; in us?

Why such destruction, such evil, such sin?

The straight answer is, The Fall.

When Adam sinned in Eden, not only did he fall but all mankind, society and the creation itself fell with him.

The Epistle lesson states that since that fateful day “…the whole creation groans and travails in pain togetherand not only the creation, but ourselves alsogroan within ourselves…” The creation, society and culture and man (you and I) groan for redemption.

As we learned in this past Sunday School term, God made a covenant with Adam and gave him the offices of priest, prophet, king and bridegroom.

As priest he was to be the image of God on the earth. As prophet he was to declare God’s revealed truth. As king he was to care for and rule over creation. As bridegroom he was to love and lead his helpmate and family.

But Adam failed. He succumb to Satan’s lies.

We would have failed too.

And when he did, the world: nature, society and man himself was included in that failure. The covenant was broken and it all became subject to sin.

But God did not leave it in that condition. No!

Instead He sent His only-begotten Son, the Second Person of the Eternal Trinity, Jesus Christ, into the world and made a New Covenant with Him.

In Christ, The Fall has been, is being and will be fully reversed!

  Had the Incarnation not occurred. Had Jesus not lived, taught and healed.

Had He not suffered and died. Had He not risen and ascended.

Had none of that happened in time and history, then we could be excused.

I mean, we cannot overcome The Fall and its effect on our own!

But all of that did happen. Jesus lived, died, rose and ascended.

Moreover He sent His Holy Spirit into the world, into us, at Holy Baptism and sealed His life upon us in Confirmation.

He gives us immeasurable grace through His Body and Blood administered to us in the Holy Eucharist to feed us, and in His Holy Word to instruct us.

Because Jesus has done what He did and has given what He gave, we are without excuse.

We have no control over how The Fall affects nature.

We have only a little control over how it affects society and culture.

We have absolute control over how it affects us.

We won’t be perfect. We will sin.

But we don’t have to be controlled by it.

The Epistle Lesson is from Romans 8.

Before that passage, in Romans 7:22-24, St. Paul sums up the dilemma we find ourselves in:

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. 23 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. 24 O wretched man that I am!”

The old nature, captured and caught up in The Fall, and the new nature, infused and liberated in Christ battle each other within our souls, our minds and our bodies.

But we can aid the new man in overcoming the old man.

St. Paul tells us in Romans 7:24, 25Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God-through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

What we can do is submit ourselves ever-deeper to the life Jesus Christ has infused into us. We can live “in Christ,” working out what He has worked into us as St. Paul teaches in Philippians.

If we don’t, then The Fall will continue to control us.

  St. John 3:16 is the most known passage in Scripture.

  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

The word “world” in that verse is kosmos. It means the whole of creation.

God so loves all of His creation that He gave His only Son, Jesus to suffer and die for its redemption.

We may not see the effect of that redemption in nature or in society and the culture. In fact, we are currently seeing the opposite!

But we can see its effect in ourselves! We should see its effect in our lives!

We should see the effect of Christ’s redemption increase in our heart, in our soul, in our mind and in our strength everyday!

Romans 8:37-39 states “Yet in all these things [all the things that drag us back towards the old nature] we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

By Holy Baptism we are brought into the New Covenant of love the Father has made with Jesus.

By the Eucharist we partake of the New Covenant meal, and in doing so feed upon the very life of Jesus to strengthen our souls and bodies.

By reading Scripture we come to know the terms of the New Covenant, we learn how to love, and our faith is strengthened so we can enter more deeply into Jesus’ life.

Nothing in this world; nothing in nature, in society or culture, or within our old nature can separate us from all Jesus has done for our redemption.

Brethren, the effect of The Fall has been conquered in Jesus Christ!

May we enter more deeply into Him, so it will be conquered in us. Amen.

Feast of St. Peter the Apostle (2019)

(Acts 12:1-11, St. Matthew 16:13-19)

“O Almighty God, who by the Son Jesus Christ didst give to thy Apostle St. Peter many excellent gifts…” (From the Collect for the Day)

Life is filled with “defining moments.”

Defining moments are those times when a decision we make or don’t make, or a choice we make or don’t make alters the path of our life.

When we survey the life of St. Peter the Apostle, we see it had several such defining moments.

There were several times when the decisions and choices Peter made altered his life. Let’s look at a few of them…

St. Luke 5 records the calling of St. Peter by Jesus. The Scriptures tell us Jesus was teaching on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

The crowd pressed so hard upon Him that He entered into a boat, Peter’s boat, and had him push off from the shore so He could have room to teach.

When Jesus finished teaching, He told Peter to let down his nets to take a draught of fish. Peter was reluctant, but did as Jesus instructed. That draught of fish was so great; Peter needed help to pull it in!

St. Luke 5:8, 9 records what happened next: “…[Peter] fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord. For he was astonished… at the draught of the fishes which they had taken…”

St. Matthew 4:19 states Jesus then said to him “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 

That was a defining moment in Peter’s life. Jesus offered him an opportunity to follow Him and Peter had to make a decision.

He chose to leave his commercial fishing behind and follow Jesus to become a fisher or men.

Today’s Gospel Lesson records another defining moment in St. Peter’s life.

Jesus and the Apostles were in Caesarea Philippi, when He asked them the question: “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?”

Various Apostles gave various answers, all of which were incorrect.

Jesus then asked them “But whom say ye that I am?”

At first, none of them said a word. We can imagine them looking around at each other timidly thinking “I’m not gonna say anything!

After what I imagine was at least a pregnant pause in time, it was Peter who spoke up and said “Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

That was another defining moment in Peter’s life. He was the first of the Twelve to profess Jesus to be the Christ, the Messiah. And Jesus took note.

He said to Peter, “Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona… And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock (this profession you have made) I will build my church…”

In that moment, that defining moment, Peter set his place as the primus inter pares (first amongst equals) in the Apostolic College.

Of the several other defining moments in St. Peter’s life that could be addressed, one stands out as the (the most) defining.

Actually, it was two moments linked into one defining moment. They were Mandy Thursday night and a day prior to the Ascension.

We know what Peter did on Maundy Thursday night. He denied Jesus three times after boasting just hours earlier he would fight and even die for Jesus.

That was a moment which could have crushed Peter forever.

He could have, as Judas did, decided that Jesus could never forgive him for denying Him. He might forgive one of the other Apostles, but not him! Not Peter! Peter was the leader and spokesman. He was supposed to be “better.”

But after weeping bitterly, Peter recognized Jesus could forgive him, and returned to be with St. John when St. Mary Magdalene told them Jesus had risen on Easter morning!

He was also with the other Apostles that night when Jesus appeared to them and breathed the Holy Spirit upon them. But one thing was still missing…

Having denied Jesus, Peter likely felt fortunate that Jesus had received him back as just another of the Twelve; but no longer the first among equals in the Apostolic College.

But then, on a day right before the Ascension, Jesus met Peter (along with several other Apostles) on the shore of Sea of Galilee, the same shore where Jesus first called Peter to follow Him. I think that’s more than a coincidence.

As Jesus sat with them and ate from a new draught of fish they had miraculously caught, He took Peter aside and said to him “Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?

Three times Jesus asked Peter this same question.

After the third, Peter replied with grief “Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee.”

And then Jesus said those words that I am sure resonated deeply and unforgettably in Peter’s heart…

In the same place where Jesus had first called Peter, He said the same two words He said to Peter on that first day “Follow me.”

That was the defining moment in St. Peter’s life. He had a choice. He could accept Jesus’ forgiveness and restoration or not. We know he did!

  In this morning’s Collect we acknowledge the many excellent gifts which Jesus gave to St. Peter. These defining moments are part of those gifts.

St. Peter used those moments to draw closer to Jesus and then go on to expend his entire life for the Gospel.

  You and I have received the gift of defining moments too.

Each of us has had them in our lives.

Each of us will likely have more of them in our future.

It is possible that today could be one of those moments?

Today could be the day when we accept Jesus’ forgiveness, or boldly confess Him, or decide to follow Him; really follow Him.

It could be the day we decide to drink more deeply from the well that is the Catholic faith; to make worship a priority, or pray fervently, or study Scripture regularly.

Today we won’t know for sure.

The thing about defining moments is, they are only known after the fact, sometimes many years after the fact.

We look back and say “That was the day.”

But they have to have a beginning.

Each of St. Peter’s defining moments had a beginning.

And today can be that beginning for each of us.  Amen.

 

Trinity Sunday (2019)

(Revelation 4:1-11, St. John 3:1-15)

“…Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power:”

I was driving home from church this past Wednesday night around 8 p.m.

I take US 460 and so I pass a lot of churches along the way.

On this particular drive, three Baptist churches caught my attention; two on the east end of Christiansburg and one on the east end of Shawsville.

As I passed by those churches, I noticed there were about 20 cars in the parking lot of each.

Now I had been here at St. Peter’s that night because mass was scheduled at 7:00 pm for Ember Wednesday in Whitsun. Fortunately on that night I could celebrate that mass, as one parishioner attended to assist.

As I passed the church in Shawsville the question came to my mind:

“What brings that number of people to these churches on a rainy Wednesday night in mid-June?”

“What motivates them?” “What do they receive?”

Being the retired police officer I am, when I got home I launched an “investigation.”

I went on the internet and searched the websites of those three churches.

What I found is two have a weekly Wednesday night worship service and the other has a weekly Wednesday night prayer service.

At each of those churches, twenty people take time in the middle of their week to go hear the Scriptures preached or taught, and to pray.

  I think I understand it now.

The reason I saw those cars at each of those Baptist churches on that Wednesday night is, they believe they get closer to Jesus there!  They believe through the Word, their prayers and their assembling together (as Hebrews10:25), they hear Jesus’ voice and have fellowship with Him.  I don’t disagree.  

  But this garners the question, what do we believe?

Do we believe Jesus is here, in this church?

Do we believe when we assemble for mass that the Presence of Jesus is here with us and that we fellowship with Him?  I pray we do!

Each time we gather here for mass we truly and substantially join with and participate in the worship we have described for us in Revelation 4 (today’s lesson for the Epistle).

While this is true throughout the service, it becomes fully connected at the Sursum Corda and when we sing the Sanctus.

At that point the worship we are participating in here on earth is “lifted up,” and like St. John we are “in the spirit” and enter into the throne room of heaven to sing “Holy, holy, holy Lord God of hosts…” echoing what St. John heard in his vision.

There we join with angels and archangels; with the four and twenty elders and the four living creatures full of eyes, to re-present the one, full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Jesus (once offered upon the Cross) to the Father.

At mass, Jesus becomes Really Present here.  Actually He’s always Present here, in the Tabernacle.

But by the words of institution and the invocation of the Holy Ghost, the bread on the altar becomes His Body and the wine in the chalice His Blood.

How God brings this into being is a Holy Mystery, but that He brings it into being is dogma; it is something we, the faithful, believe.

At the Last Supper it is Jesus who said “Take, eat, this is my Body.” and “Drink ye, all of it: For this is my blood of the New Testament….”

And in St. John 6:55 He taught “For my flesh is meat [βρῶσις, brōsis food] indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”

Every time you and I assist (attend) at mass we enter into the worship that “rests not day and night” taking place perpetually in heaven.

We fulfill what Hebrews 10:19, 20 states, we “…enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil that is to say, his flesh.”

  What sets the mass head and shoulders above all other forms of earthly worship (all preaching and prayer services) is two-fold.

First, the mass is the most Biblical form of worship.

In the New Testament, the only form of worship that Jesus institutes and that St. Paul instructs the Church on, is the celebration of the Eucharist.

Second, the mass is the perfect balance of the means of grace God gives: Prayer, the Word and the Sacrament.

At mass we pray some of the most beautiful prayers ever written in the English language. We hear the Scriptures read and the Word preached verbally. And then as we receive the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus, we hear and see the Gospel preached visibly.

St. Augustine called the Eucharist “the Word made visible.” More directly, in 1 Corinthians 11:26 St. Paul declares “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”

The mass is the most evangelical form of worship there is.

It is a proclamation of the Gospel from beginning to end!

Its words and actions cry out the Good News of Jesus Christ, in a way that no other words or activity on earth does!

The Eucharist is the primary means appointed by God to connect us to the resurrected, ascended and living Jesus Christ! As we draw near with faith, we partake to the salvation of our bodies and our souls.

In St. John 6:53, 54 Jesus says “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Jesus only uses this language for a sacrament in one other place, for Baptism, in St. John 3:5 as we heard in today’s Gospel.

Brethren, I think I understand why I saw those cars at those three churches on a rainy Wednesday night in mid-June.  Those 60 or so people see something there and desire to receive it!

What do we see here? What is our desire?

Are we willing to take the time and make the effort to access it?

As Anglican Catholics who love Jesus and believe He is Really Present for us to be received in the Eucharist, why would we not want to be where we know our Lord is?

More so, why would we not clamor for more opportunities to be with Him? Amen.

 

Whitsunday (2019)

(Acts 2:1-11, St. John 14:15-31)

“And suddenly there came a sound from heaven of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting.”

What effect does the presence of the Holy Ghost have upon our life?

A simple survey of the life of our parish patron, the Apostle St. Peter, gives us a very good indication.

Prior to Pentecost, St. Peter was unsettled. He was tossed to and fro; he was up and down, hot and cold.

Scripture gives us several examples of this.

In St. Matthew 16, Jesus asked the twelve “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” Various Apostles testified to different opinions, but it was St. Peter that rightly said “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

But then later, in that same chapter, when Jesus went on to explain that being ‘the Christ’ meant He would have to suffer and die, St. Peter said “Far be it from You, Lord; this shall not happen to You!

St. John 6 is another example. In that chapter, Jesus identifies Himself as the bread of life and says “Verily, verily I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, he have no life in you.”

Upon hearing these hard words, many of Jesus’ disciples stopped following Him. When Jesus asked the twelve if they too were going to abandon Him, it was St. Peter who said “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.”

But then at the mount of Transfiguration (St. Mark 9:1-8), after St. Peter, with St. James and St. John saw Jesus transfigured and speaking with Moses and Elijah he blurted out “Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias.”   He wrongly put all three on the same level of authority.

It took the voice of the Father to correct Peter’s errant words. From heaven He said “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”

Here is one more. On the night of Jesus’ passion three events show the wavering nature of St. Peter before Pentecost.

When Jesus first brought them to Gethsemane, Peter (and the others) fell asleep. Not once, not twice, but three times.

But then when Judas brought the temple guards and servants to the garden to arrest Jesus, Peter jumped into action and cut off the ear of Malchus, one of the servants, and had to be told by Jesus to stop fighting.

Then, after Jesus had been taken, Peter followed and stood outside while He was arraigned in the house of Annas. There he denied Jesus three times.

Before Pentecost, St. Peter would at times be bold and at other times timid.

At times he would be brave and at others a coward.

At times he would state the truth and at other times error.

Such is man’s nature without the Holy Ghost dwelling within.

But after Pentecost, St. Peter was much different.

He was no longer a man who waivered.

He was a man who was bold and brave and spoke truth all the time.

Today’s lesson for the Epistle from Acts 2 stops at verse 11, but the rest of that chapter tells us what occurred after the Apostles were endued with the Holy Ghost.

In verses 14-36 St. Peter preaches the first sermon of the Church.

He pulls no punches. He lays the blame for Jesus’ death right at the feet of His fellow Jews. (That charge is applicable to us all. Had we lived then, we would’ve done as the Jews and Roman did.)

St. Peter’s words convicted many of his hearers (vs. 37 says they were “pricked in the heart”) and he gives the remedy for sin “Repent and be baptized every one of you for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (v. 38) He was bold. He was brave. He spoke the truth!

Soon after, he (St. John with him) healed a lame man outside of the Temple and gave glory to Jesus for the healing. Again, St. Peter preached a bold and poignant sermon, and for doing so both Apostles were arrested.

In Acts 4:8-12 St. Peter gives the first “apology” (defense) of the Catholic faith to the rulers of the Sanhedrin. V. 8 states “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them…” He concludes in v. 12 saying “Neither is their salvation in any other [than Jesus]: for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.

Think about this. St. Peter said those words to the same men who two months earlier arrested Jesus and put Him to death! Yet he was fearless. Why? Because he was filled with the power of the Holy Ghost.

  Brethren, you and I have also been filled with the Holy Ghost.

When we were baptized, His presence was infused into us, giving us a new nature, a nature that seeks to know Jesus and be one of His disciples.

When we were confirmed, we were sealed with the seven-fold gifts of the Spirit to produce the nine gifts of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22, 23)

Because we have received the Holy Ghost, our lives can be transformed like St. Peter’s was. We can be bold. We can be brave. We can speak truth.

We may not be called upon to testify to crowds and before rulers as St. Peter was. In fact, it is very unlikely we will be.

But we are called to be bold, brave and truthful in the next decision we have to make, in the next conversation we have, in the face of the next diagnosis our doctor gives us, when our Lord leads us to do something we’ve not done before, maybe in a place we’ve not been before; something that we may not be comfortable with.

Remember what Jesus told St. Peter after the resurrection?

In St. John 21:18 Jesus told him “Verily, verily I say unto you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” (NKJV)

Before Pentecost, St. Peter sailed the Sea of Galilee doing as he pleased. Even after he started to follow Jesus, he could have left any time he wanted.

After Pentecost that was no longer the case. The Holy Ghost dwelled within him; leading him, urging him, compelling him to go the way and do the things he was being lead by the Spirit to do.

One day, Jesus’ words were completely fulfilled. He stretched out his arms on a cross in the city of Rome and was crucified upside down.

Jesus has a plan for us as He did for St. Peter. As we diligently seek Him, the Holy Ghost will reveal it to us, sometimes step by step.

But Jesus has a cross for us too. Our cross is different than St. Peter’s. It is a cross that leads to the death of our self, our ego, our fears, our doubts.

Yet, it is a true cross none the less.

We must take it up, take up our own cross as St. Peter took up His own cross, and follow wherever the Holy Ghost leads us.

And we can, because that is the effect the presence of the Holy Ghost has upon our lives. Amen.

 

Ascension (2019)

(Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14, Acts 1:1-11)

“Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?”

 Imagine the surprise of the angels in heaven on the day of Jesus’ ascension.

Until that day no man, no being with a rational soul and body, had entered into the heavenly realm. Not Elijah. Not Moses. Not even Abraham.

St. Luke 16 tells us that prior to the Ascension the righteous were brought by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, where they rested in peace and comfort. Jesus calls this place Paradise in St. Luke 23:43.

So imagine the surprise of the angels when Jesus Christ, in His resurrected human body, ascended into the heavenly realm on that day.

  Psalm 24:7-10 gives us a glimpse of the commotion the Ascension created.

The angels escorting Jesus from earth to heaven called out “Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lift up ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.”

To which the angels guarding the gates responded “Who is this King of glory?”

The escorting angels responded “It is the Lord, strong and mighty, even the Lord mighty in battle…Even the Lord of hosts, he is the King of Glory.”

Daniel’s vision, recorded for us in the Old Testament lesson, gives us a picture of these events “…I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom…his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed.” The reign of Jesus the Christ had begun!

We can only imagine what it would have been like to see Jesus ascend into heaven!

Even in this day with computer generated special effects in movies, I think witnessing the ascension would have been absolutely spectacular!

No wonder the Apostles continued to gaze up to heaven, straining their eyes in the hopes of getting once last glimpse of Jesus as He ascended.

But it was more than the spectacular sight that had the Apostles gazing.

For them, as the apostolic witnesses to the ministry, passion, death and resurrection, the One who was ascending was the very foundation and purpose of their lives. They didn’t want to see Jesus go.

We may do this when a visiting loved one drives off.

We stand along the road watching, straining, until we can no longer see them. As they disappear from sight, we already begin to long for their return.

This is how the Apostles felt. As their loved one, their Lord, was ascending out of their site they were already longing for His return.

As spectacular a sight as it was, Jesus did not allow the Apostles to keep standing there gazing.

He sent “two men in white apparel,” to them.

Those angelical messengers told them to stop gazing up, for Jesus, the one they longed for, would return in a manner like they just saw Him ascend.

The apostles already knew this. Jesus had told them Himself.

In St. John 14:2, 3 Jesus said to them “… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you unto myself: that where I am, ye may be also.”

He had told them He had to leave this world and go to The Father, and that one day He would return for them.

And yet they kept gazing, needing the messengers to rebuke them.

But why? What was wrong with the apostles straining to the very last for one more glimpse of Jesus?  In general, nothing.

But in this particular situation, something. An important something.

What was that something? Calling. Commission.

Jesus had called and commissioned the Apostles to do something, and standing there gazing for one last glimpse at Him was not going to cut it.

It was not going to fulfill either.  They had to stop gazing and start doing!

What were they to do? They were to go!

Go into the world, go to every creature, go and preach the Gospel!

That is what Jesus had called them for. That is what He had commissioned them to do.  Not to gaze, but to go!

And go they did, turning the world upside down! (Acts 17:6)

Today, as we assist here at this mass, we have the opportunity to gaze.

In a few moments our hearts will be lifted up to join the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven in the most perfect form of worship we can offer to God while on this earth; the Holy Eucharist.

We will be blessed to receive the very Body and Blood of Jesus.

As we do so, as we partake in this spectacular event, it is okay for us to gaze. It is okay for us to strain to receive all the Holy Ghost allows us to see and to receive all our Lord Jesus gives us of Himself to receive.

But let us not stay here! We cannot stay here! Let us go! We must go!

For we too have been called. We too have been commissioned.

In Holy Baptism we are called.  In Confirmation we are commissioned.

We are called to be disciples, followers of Jesus Christ through His Word in the Holy Catholic Church.

We are commissioned to go where the Holy Spirit leads us.

We are to be messengers of the Gospel by service and by testimony to every creature we encounter.

This is our calling!  This is our commission!

My brethren, what the Apostles saw was spectacular…truly awesome!

What the angels in heaven saw was even more so.

When we take the time to contemplate it, what we see and receive at every mass is spectacular too, for here we too are in the awesome presence of Jesus Christ.

But like the Apostles we cannot stay here. We cannot just gaze.

We must go! Gazing is good. Going is great.

So let us do so. Let us go, into every part of this world we live in (Blacksburg, Christiansburg and throughout the New River Valley).

Let us go and live and speak the Gospel; the Good News of the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of the world.  For the salvation of men’s souls!

Let us bring Christ to people and people to Christ.

Let us be doers of the Word and not gazers only.

Our Lord Jesus has ascended. He has gone to prepare a place for us.

May we be ready for His return; good and faithful servants who choose going over gazing.  Amen.

Easter Five (2019)

(St. James 1:22-27, St. John 16:23-33)

“Jesus answered them, Do ye now believe?”

If tomorrow you or I was arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us in a court?

What kind of evidence would be needed for a conviction? Let’s see…

Regular church attendance could be evidence, but then thousands of people go to church, some every Sunday, but the church they attend doesn’t preach the truth of Jesus Christ, so that would not be enough.

Being a “good person” could be evidence, but then we all know “good people” who are not Christians and CiNO’s (Christians in Name Only), so that too would not be enough.

Tithing or pledging could be evidence, but then many people give more than ten percent of their income for things other than a church.

Wait, I’ve got one. Being pro-life! Christians are pro-life so that should convict us. While that is most often true, it’s not completely. There are pro-life atheists and agnostics too.

So then, what kind of evidence would convict us of being a Christian?

St. James tells us in today’s EpistleBut be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves… Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”

Based on that passage, a prosecutor looking to convict us for being a Christian would look for three types of evidence:

First, evidence of our obedience to Scripture.

Second, evidence of our love for others shown in our involvement in the lives of others, either directly or through an outreach ministry.

Third, evidence we do not think or live the way the world says we should.

Would a prosecutor be able to find sufficient evidence of that kind to convict us for being a Christian?

In 1 Corinthians 4:9-13 St. Paul (who was convicted for being a Christian) gives a good summary of the kind of evidence necessary:“We are fools for Christ’s sake…; we are weak… we are despised. Even unto this present hour we… are buffeted…: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it. Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring (what is scraped off a dinner plate) of all things unto this day.”

That kind of evidence would absolutely convict us of being a Christian.

It is evidence of a man or a woman totally surrendered to Jesus Christ and fully invested in the cause of the Gospel.

In that passage from 1 Corinthians 4, St. Paul was describing the life of an apostle. In Greek the word (ἀπόστολος / apóstolos) means “messenger.”

While there were only twelve Apostles-proper and St. Paul was the Apostle-proper to the Gentiles, every person baptized into Christ is, in effect, an apostle; every Christian is a messenger.

We are all sent by God into this world to bring Christ to people and people to Christ. We are all sent to bring the Gospel to every creature. That is the Commission Jesus gave all of us prior to His ascension.

The place we are sent to, the people we know, and the ways in which we will minister differ, but the objective of the Commission is the same.

If we are faithful, then our lives will, in some form, come to look like what St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 4. We will certainly produce enough of the three types of evidence St. James provides.

The evidence necessary to get us convicted for being a Christian.

Back in the 1990’s there was an evangelical campaign identified as WWJD: “What Would Jesus Do?” It was okay, but I always thought a better campaign; a truer campaign would be WDJD “What Did Jesus Do?”

Why speculate about what Jesus would do, when we know what He did do!

And we also know what the first followers of Jesus did. It is written throughout the pages of the New Testament.

What we have to do is study Scripture and be “doers of that Word.”

The Epistle states “But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

If we really want to produce the evidence needed to convict us, we need to follow those who followed Jesus and be doers of the Word.

As St. Paul told the Corinthians, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.”

  One of the many amazing things about Scripture is how practical its instructions are.

The instruction given in the Epistles is aimed at everyday followers of Jesus. Followers like you and me.

Of those writings 1 and 2 Peter top the list of the most practical.

St. Peter was writing to Christians throughout the Roman Empire who were facing incredible persecution for their faith under the emperor Nero.

I think his instruction can be summed up this way: “Don’t pick a fight, but don’t back down from Truth either. Live your faith, faithfully; openly and graciously (thankfully even) accepting the consequences for doing so.”

1 Peter 2:11, 12 is an example of this instruction “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul; Having your [manner of life] honest among the Gentiles: that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall [look upon], glorify God in the day of visitation.”

As we produce the type of evidence that will convict us of being a Christian, non-believers and those who hate God will speak evil of us.

When that happens, we must accept it and keep believing and living the way Scripture instructs. We cannot back down.

Jesus was very clear about this. “…whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (St. Matt. 10:33)

We can deny Jesus in more ways than with words; in what we say or do not say. We can deny Him in the way we live. In what we do or do not do.

I conclude with this:

1 Peter 3:15 instructs us “But sanctify (set apart) 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…”

If Christ is set apart in our hearts, and we are always ready to speak and live as His messengers, we will never deny Jesus in any way.

The Word of God will be so living and active within us, doing what Jesus and His first followers did will be as natural to us breathing.

But, the consequence of such a life is, we will be easily convicted for being a Christian. We will produce insurmountable evidence. Amen.

 

Easter Four (2019)

(St. John 16:5-15)

Because I have said these things, sorrow hath filled your heart.”

Jesus was very direct with the Apostles about what was to occur during Holy Week and shortly after.

He revealed to them all the Father wanted them to know; all their minds and hearts could handle.

He didn’t hold back. He pulled no punches. The truth was the truth.

The Father’s will was the Father’s will and the Apostles needed to hear it, from Jesus, before it took place in time and history.

But the things Jesus told the Apostles engendered fear in their minds and sadness in their hearts. At times they may have wanted to stop their ears.

As far back as St. Matthew 16:22 we are told St. Peter said to Jesus “Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.

In other words “Lord, say it ain’t so!”  But it was so. “The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day.” (St. Mark 9:31).

Jesus’ pending death and resurrection was fact, and the Apostles needed to hear and accept it. They were not to deny or ignore the truth.

The Church today is faced with a similar circumstance.

Jesus has told us what will take place between His ascension and Second Coming, these days we now find ourselves living in.

While He was not at liberty to tell us the day or the hour (for that would encroach upon our need for faith), He has given us the times and seasons to watch for. He has given us the facts. He has told us the truth.

We must learn those facts, accept that truth and be prepared for them.

What does Scripture tell us about these days we live in; these days between Jesus’ ascension and Second Coming?  Quite a bit. Here’s a sampling.

In St. Matthew 24:4-7 Jesus says “…Take heed that no man deceive you… ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.”

1 Peter 4:12, 13 states “Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.”

And 1 John 2:18Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.”

Wars and rumors of war. Nations against nations. Famines and earthquakes. Fiery trials. Men and women infested with the spirit of antichrist.  These are the headlines of the world since Jesus’ ascended; and are very prominent today. We should not be taken by surprise.

In St. John 16:33 Jesus sums up what we are to expect in these days before His return “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.”

At this time, in this world all that believe upon Christ by faith and strive to follow Him will (not might) will have tribulation.  But, Jesus has overcome the world so we can have peace!

In March 2008 I was recovering from the second of three on-duty back injuries I sustained over 18 months (the third ended my police career).

For eight weeks I had rehabbed as hard as ever and felt fit and ready to return to duty. But there was one problem. I still felt pain.

I had full range of motion and strength, but my back still hurt, even after eight weeks of being off from work.

I told my doctor this and he said something I’ve not forgotten. He said “Paul, the issue is no longer whether you will have pain or no pain. Now the issue is will you have pain with range of motion (which I had) or pain without motion.”

In this time between Jesus’ ascension and His Second Coming the issue is not whether we, as those who believe upon Christ by faith and strive to follow Him, will have tribulation or no tribulation.

We heard in St. John 17:33 we will. Jesus said “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” Not having tribulation is not an option for the faithful.

In St. John 17:20 Jesus did not pray for us to be taken from the tribulations of the world, but that our souls would be kept safe as we go through them.

The issue for us is, will we have tribulation with peace or tribulation with fear and anxiety. Tribulation is going to happen, life itself it full of it, never mind what we must endure being faithful.

Even if we shrink away from faithfulness, if we try to hide our faith, sooner than later tribulation will find us. God will have us tested.

The issue then is (the question is) will we have peace in the midst of it, or anxiety and fear.

Jesus told us of the tribulations we have now, and that which are to come, so that we might have peace in the midst of them. In Him we can have such peace because He, and He alone, has overcome the world and we are in Him.

His overcoming death with bodily resurrection is the proof He has overcome! No one else has risen from the dead and lives eternally.

So, let us not live in fear!  2 Timothy 1:7 says “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

1 John 4:18 says “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”

As we endure the tribulations we are called to endure let us embrace love, let us embrace the resurrected Jesus Christ who has overcome the world, and have all fear cast out, replacing it with power and a sound mind.

Jesus, in the Scriptures, has told us what we are to expect in these days from His ascension until His Second coming for this very reason.

Let us be of good cheer. We need not be taken by surprise.

The peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Easter Three (2019)

(1 Peter 2:11-17)

For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”

You will have no doubt noticed that the Prayer Book lessons appointed for these first three Sunday’s after Easter do not allow us to bask in the glow of Christ’s resurrection.

This is most noticeable in the portions appointed for the Epistles.

On the first Sunday, the Lesson from 1 John begins “Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world…” Last week’s Lesson from 1 Peter 2 begins “This is thankworthy, if a man for conscience sake toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully.” And today’s (also from 1 Peter 2) begins “…I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.”

Rather than allow us to bask, the appointed Lessons call us to action!  We might say they are telling us “Christ is risen!  Go now and live this truth.” Or as St. Paul states it in Romans 13:12The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.”

In doing this, the Prayer Book is being faithful to Jesus’ instructions.

After His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the Apostles and up to 500 others over a period of 40 days before He ascended into heaven.

Before He ascended He told them (St. Luke 24:47-49) “…repentance and remission of sins should be preached… among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem…but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”

Jesus told the Apostles they could only bask in the glory of His bodily resurrection and ascension for a short period.

Once they were endued with power from the promised Holy Ghost (ten days after the Ascension), they were to get busy and be His witnesses in all the world.

This commission is what the Prayer Book lessons are exhorting us to.

We know the truth of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. In Holy Baptism we have been empowered by water and the Holy Ghost.

Therefore we are now, today, to go and be His witnesses in this portion of the world He has placed us in.

Ephesians 5:15, 16 has great meaning for us today, more so than any other point in our life time.

It states “See then that ye walk circumspectly (Gk. accurately, diligently), not as fools, but as wise, Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.

The days have passed when we could rely on the moral fabric of society to support the practice of orthodox, evangelical religion. Heck, today we can’t rely on society to determine whether a child is a boy or a girl, or whether a baby should live or die! Today, good is evil and evil is good.

Today we must urgently heed St. Paul’s exhortation in Philippians 2:13-15 “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling…That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;”

These Prayer Book lessons are in a sense then prophetic.

While every generation of the Church that has used them at mass should heed them, this generation, our generation, must particularly do so!

If we don’t…who will?

If we, as Biblical, orthodox, evangelical, sacramental Anglican Catholic Christians do not, then who will?

If we hear the sense of urgency these Lessons present to us and we do not heed them, who will?

I know the concern.

We are small with few resources and little influence.

Well, under Gideon’s leadership God conquered an army of Midianites with 300 faithful Israelites holding clay pots.  He turned the whole of the Roman Empire upside down with 12 Apostles.

I don’t think God expects us to conquer the world for the Gospel. Not our church or the Continuum, never mind our parish.

But what He does expect is for us to conquer ourselves. He expects us to (2 Corinthians 10:5) “…bring into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”

He does not expect us to go to every creature in the world. But He does expect us to go to every creature within our sphere of influence; our children and grandchildren, extended family and friends, our social network, the clerk at the super market, the teller at the bank.

He expects us to bring the Gospel to them.

I hear this objection too…”But I’m not good at telling others about Jesus.”

My brethren, that misses the mark. The Gospel isn’t a mere message, it’s a Person. The Gospel is the crucified, resurrected and ascended Jesus Christ.

Bringing the Gospel to others is bringing the living presence of Jesus Christ in us (Who dwells in us) to others. It is “Where I go, Jesus Christ goes.”

It is, when I’m in the supermarket checkout line, the Gospel, the Presence of Christ in the me, is there. Same when I’m with my family and friends.

This doesn’t take any special ability. But it does take a full, personal surrender to Jesus Christ and a willingness to be His witness.

It takes an ever-growing commitment to daily prayer, consistent study of Scripture, and at least weekly reception of the Eucharist, by which we receive immeasurable grace.

It takes changing our affections and actions. Our words and our deeds.

But we can do these. We have the grace. It’s a matter of willingness.

  There is an unfortunate tendency in Eastertide to relax ourselves spiritually.

The intensity of Lent with its disciplines has passed and we can often kick back and put our lives on spiritual cruise control all the way until Advent.

The Lessons of these first three weeks after Easter say “No way!”

They say, by the resurrected power of Jesus Christ which dwells in us: “overcome the world” (week one), “endure grief and suffer wrong” (week two) and “abstain from fleshly lusts” (today, week three).

Jesus does not allow us to kick back. No cruising allowed. Not, that is, if we want to be found faithful witnesses.

  May we use the grace we are being given to hear and heed what these Prayer Book lessons exhort us to.  Amen.

 

 

 

Easter Two (2019)

(1 St. Peter 2:19-25, St. John 10:11-16)

“For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow in his steps…”

I am sure we are all familiar with the saying “Do as I say, not as I do?”

This could easily be the motto of much of the world today.

Essentially it means, “Don’t follow my example.”

In contrast, look at our Lord Jesus Christ.  His life was much different.

He not only told men what they should do, He exemplified everything He told men to do in His own life.

His motto was “Do as I say, and as I do.”  “Follow my example.”

In this morning’s Epistle this is what St. Peter teaches us about our Lord.

He teaches us that Christ not only told the world how we are to live, He showed us how we are to live.

He exemplified what He taught with His own life.

The Epistle identifies two of the things our Lord taught His disciples to follow Him in doing.

The first of these is suffering. In both His words and His own life, our Lord taught us about suffering.

St. Peter states that as Christians we must be prepared to suffer, for every Christian will endure it.

He is so sure of this that he says, “For even hereunto were ye called.”

Since, in Christ, we have been called to suffering, the issues then are:

  1. Why are we suffering, and
  2. What do we do with the suffering we are called to endure?

If we are suffering for the cause of Christ and use that suffering for the glory of God and the furtherance of the Gospel, there is great reward in it.

If not, then its only outcome is negative.

The Epistle states we must be prepared to suffer for the glory of Christ.

We must be willing to endure assaults on our spirit and body (for example, attacks on our character) for His sake.

When we do, great spiritual blessings will result.

This is the example Jesus set for us.  Throughout His life, our Lord suffered almost daily.

In His body He endured suffering.

He often fasted in order to draw His humanity closer to the Father and be able to press it onward towards Golgotha.  He lost sleep, spending whole nights in prayer in order to have the strength to teach and heal those in need.

As He told the Apostles in Gethsemane: “Watch and pray for the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”

In His spirit He endured suffering.

His own people, His own family, hurled insults at Him!  Some claimed He healed infirmities by the power of the devil and was a sinner because He ate with the sin-filled.

They said He was a Sabbath-breaker. They called Him a liar.

Jesus faithfully endured it all, setting for us the example of God’s suffering servant.

Of Jesus’ sufferings St. Augustine wrote “Christ taught you to suffer, and he did so by suffering himself.  Words would not be enough unless example were added.  And how, precisely did he teach us, brethren?  He was hanging on the cross, and the Jews were raging…he was hanging there, yet at the same time he was healing them.” 

Are we willing to follow that example?  Are we willing to suffer what we must for the sake of the Gospel?

Are we willing to suffer what we must for the salvation of our own souls, the souls of our family, our friends and our neighbors?  How about for the souls of our enemies?

This is what Christ exemplified for us in word and deed. We have been called to do the same.

The second thing the Epistle identifies that our Lord taught us and exemplified for us to do in word and deed is love.

Our Lord most perfectly exemplified love by dying upon the cross for our sins.

St. Peter states that our Lord, “…in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree…

Remember what Jesus said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” Jesus really did this!

   He is our example.

We are called to follow Christ’s example of love not only by trusting in Him for our own salvation, but by taking up our own cross daily and following Him, all the way to the Golgotha prepared for us.

St. Augustine again wrote, “…Christ’s passion profits none but those who follow in his footsteps.” 

   We are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and love as He loves.

   Holy Scripture is filled with examples of Christ’s love for us to follow.

We must immerse ourselves in them, learn that example and then apply it our daily lives by giving ourselves up in love for one another.

As St. John wrote of our Lord “…having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”

This is what Christ exemplified for us; love unto the very end.

We have been called to do the same.

My brethren I am not going to stand here this morning and say that we, of our natural ability and strength, are capable of following the example of Christ to suffer and love in word and deed as He did.

Of our own nature we cannot.

And yet, that does not mean it isn’t possible.

By the grace given to us in the Sacraments and by the inerrant instruction of Scripture we are enabled by the Holy Ghost to follow that example.

In Christ we can suffer and love as Christ suffered and loves.

In Him we can give ourselves up for others, to the glory of the Father, the sake of the Gospel, and the salvation of souls!

In Christ and by Christ we’ve got this!

Oh, it will not be easy.  People will think we’re zealots, if not nuts.

But then Jesus never said it would be easy!

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus did not shrink away from suffering or loving others.  Instead He reached out in love to others and sought out the lost so they might be saved.

This is what Christ exemplified for us in word and deed.

We have been called to do the same.

The world would have us follow the motto, “Do as I say, not as I do.”

In contrast our Lord says “Do as I say, and as I do.”

Follow my example” “Take up your cross daily, and follow me.”

The choice is ours. We have been given the grace to make it.

Whose example will we follow?

May God use that grace to follow the example of Christ in word and deed; to His glory, to the advancement of the Gospel, and the salvation of souls: our own, and others as well.  Amen.

 

Easter Sunday (2019)

(1 Corinthians 5:6-8, St. Mark 16:1-8)

“Know ye not, that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?”

I have little doubt that each of us here this morning knows the “facts” of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We know what Sacred Scripture teaches took place from the time Jesus and His Twelve Apostles entered into the Upper Room on Maundy Thursday through the time the holy women went to the tomb on Easter Sunday morning to complete His burial.

This is good.  It is very good.

In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul states it is essential to our salvation that we know these facts. In v. 2 of that passage he states such knowledge is that “By which ye are saved,…

So knowing “the facts” is good, but is that all we know?

Are we merely “head-knowledge Christians” who only know “the facts” of Scripture, or are we “heart and soul-knowledge Christians” who know the facts, yes, but also, by grace embrace those facts and have a true and lively faith in the Risen Jesus Christ?

As St. James 1:22 states “…be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

If we are “heart and soul-knowledge Christians” it will be evident in who we are, the way we live, and the way we appear before the world.

In this morning’s Epistle we heard St. Paul warn us a little leaven (yeast) affects a whole lump of bread dough.

He uses that analogy to tell us that only a small amount of love for the world (chosen over love for Christ) can affect our entire Christian life.

If you’ve seen the way yeast works in a ball of bread dough, then you can understand the impact a little worldliness can have on our life.

In the Epistle St. Paul goes on to provide the remedy for this situation: “Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump…”

1 John 2:15 says “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

The Christian life is an “unleavened” life.

It is a life purged of the leaven of love for the world.

It is a life where the whole “lump” is made new.

It is a life that loves Christ over the world.

The foundation of this life is the facts of the Gospel, and in particular all that occurred from Maundy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday.

But something must be built upon that foundation.

Something “unleavened.”

Something made into the “unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

That something is a faithful Christian life.

A life that sincerely loves and believes upon Jesus Christ by grace through faith.

   My brethren, the message of Easter is really quite simple:  In Christ all things are made new!

Our lives can be made new too, if we will utilize God’s grace, choose faithfulness to Christ over the world, and purge ourselves of the leaven of worldliness.  We are in the world, but we cannot be of it!

May God would fulfill what we prayed in this morning’s Collect:  “Grant us so to die daily from sin, that we may evermore live with (Jesus) in the joy of his resurrection.” 

Jesus is Risen!  He is Risen indeed!  Amen.

 

Maundy Thursday (2019)

(St. John 13:1-15)

“When Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.”

From the world’s perspective, it appeared Jesus’ death was beyond His control; that He was a “victim of circumstance.” This is not so.

Everything that happened to Jesus in His Passion and Death was part of the fulfillment of God’s perfect design for man’s redemption.

We may not yet fully understand this. Yet it is true.  

Throughout the Gospels Jesus tells us He knew how His life would end.

To Nicodemus He said “…as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” (St. John 3:14)

He knew He was born to die as the perfect Sacrifice for the world’s sins.

In St. John 10:11 He declared “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”

Jesus did not die one moment before the Father’s appointed time, or by any other means than by the Father’s appointed means.

His final words from His cross were “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”  In other words, “Father, I willfully entrust my spirit into thy care.”

Only when the Scriptures concerning Him had been fulfilled, the Father’s justice had been satisfied, and the work of salvation was finished, only then did Jesus willfully dismiss His Spirit, entrusting it into His Father’s hands.

His life was not taken from Him.

At the Father’s appointed time Jesus obediently and freely gave it up.  

  What was true in Jesus’ life can be true in ours.

We too can so submit ourselves to the Father’s will and live in confident assurance that nothing that occurs in our life is outside of God’s will, which is to save us eternally in Christ.

When trials come, as they will, we can pray “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.”

If we, as Jesus did, submit ourselves to the Father’s will, His purpose for us will be fulfilled, just as Jesus’ purpose was fulfilled.

We will be confident that we truly are the Father’s ”…workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

Our daily lives will become focused upon fulfilling the Father’s will, to the glory of Jesus and the building up of His Body, the Church.

For this to happen, a transaction must occur. A decision has to be made.

We must take hold of the grace we are given in the Sacraments, the Word and prayer, and by an act of will, working by faith, die to ourselves and live in and for Christ. We must give our will up to the Father, and exchange it for His will for us.

As Jesus gave Himself up to be the sacrifice for sin, we must surrender ourselves, our wills, as living sacrifices to be used as God wills; never looking back or counting the cost.

With St. Paul we must say “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

As we do, we will gain assurance that nothing that happens in our life, both “good” and “bad” (as the world sees it), is beyond the Father’s control.

We will know that all things are working together for good, because we love God and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

We will be able to say “Father, into Thy hands I commend my life.”

This transaction is exemplified by St. Peter.

In the Garden, Jesus told Peter to watch and pray so he would not fall to temptation. Instead he slept. Hours later he denied Jesus three times.

But Peter repented, surrendered his own will for the Father’s, and from that day forward was crucified with Christ.

After the resurrection at Tiberius Jesus told him “When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not.”

Years later, St. Peter was placed on a literal cross in Rome. He was not crucified for sins; his own or anyone else’s. He was crucified as a testimony of doing the Father’s will for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus lived His entire life in accord with His Father’s will.

He knew His suffering was the Father’s will and He would not die until the Father had been glorified. We too can live with that kind of assurance.

But first we must, by grace through faith, take part of the transaction.

We must submit our will to the Father’s will, take up our cross as St. Peter did, and follow Jesus.   Amen.

 

Palm Sunday (2019)

(St. Matthew 21:1-9)

“And a very great multitude spread their garments in the way; and the multitudes that followed, cried saying: Hosanna to the Son of David:” 

Five days.  What can happen in one’s life in five days?

In the life of our Lord Jesus, and in the history of man’s redemption, a whole lot happened in five days.

The Gospel Lesson that was read with the distribution of the Palms tells us of a great celebration that took place in Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.

There were many visitors in the city on that day because the Passover was just days away and many came to the city to prepare for the festivities.

But even if there had not been so many visitors in the city on that day, it would not have mattered.

For as Jesus told the nay-saying priests and scribes, if the people had not shouted out “Hosanna”, the rocks themselves would have done so!

Such was the celebration in the air on that first Palm Sunday.

Only the most hardened or ignorant were not caught up in it. But that was the first day.

As we heard in the Passion Gospel, over the next five days the celebratory air would change drastically to the stench of suffering and death.

It would first change to indignation as Jesus cleansed the Temple of those who bought and sold, and had made the Temple a house of merchandise instead of a house of prayer.

It would change to introspection when Jesus challenged the Jewish religious leaders in one final series of theological debates.

It changed again, to an evening of servitude and solemnity when Jesus washed the feet of and shared the Last Supper, the institution of the Holy Eucharist, with His apostles.

It then changed to betrayal as Judas first made his deal with the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver, and later delivered Jesus to them with a kiss.

In the Garden of Gethsemane it turned into a time of agonizing prayer for Jesus, and of sleep and then turmoil, terror and flight for the apostles as Jesus was taken captive and led away for trial.

Then first in the house of the High Priest Caiaphas, and afterwards at Gabatha, the house of judgment where Pilate presided, it turned into farcical trials filled with false testimony and unjust judgments.

The guilty Barabbas was set free and the innocent Jesus was sentenced to death.

When given the chance to set the King of Righteousness free, the same crowd who five days earlier called out “Hosanna!” cried out “Crucify Him!”

It had only been five days.

Ultimately it turned into passion and death, as Jesus’ flesh was torn from His body by a flagrum, His scalp and skull were pierced with a crown of thorns, and He was made to carry a rough and heavy cross which He was nailed to in the cruelest means of execution ever known to man: crucifixion.

All of this occurred within five days.  Just five days.

Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday. On this day, even though we are still in Lent, we cannot help but feel a sense of joy welling up within our spirits.

While the summit of Lent’s solemnity, Holy Week, is only beginning: 2,000 plus years removed from the first Palm Sunday we know the outcome.

We know that next Sunday is Easter, and on that day the sense of joy that is only welling within us today will break through as we celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord.

But what about these next five days?  We don’t know their outcome.

What will occur in our lives over them? How will we spend this week?

Will it be like any and every other week of our lives?  Or will it be different?

Will the cry of Hosanna continue to ring in our hearts? Or will we become indignant like the money changers?

Will we debate with Jesus like the Scribes and Pharisees?  Betray Him like Judas?

Sleep and then run for fear, abandoning Jesus, like the apostles?  Deny Him like St. Peter?

Will we stand by while men mock and crucify Jesus afresh?

Will we line the road, like so many did the day our Lord carried His cross, “wanting” to do something, but afraid or unwilling to actually do anything?

Will lax-living and the practice of sin nail Him to the Cross anew?

What will we do over the next five days?  How will we live them? How will we live our lives after them?

As we have seen, a lot can happen in a mere five days. The tide can turn very quickly.

These next five days can be very important in our Christian lives.

In these next five days we can more firmly take hold of God’s grace, and the strength and discipline that flows from it. We can further shake off the bonds of sin, fix our eyes more firmly upon Jesus, and take up our cross determined to follow Him no matter the cost.

To do so we must need accept the indignation, the debates, the betrayals, the agony, the fear, mocking, scourging and the death that every believer in Jesus must accept in order to be His disciple.

We need to learn to die to ourselves daily, and live for Christ.

It will be painful.  It will become lonely.

But it has to be that way. That is the way of the Cross.

It certainly was for Jesus, and the servant is no better than his Master.

At best, we can hope to be as our Master.

We know what the Palm Sunday crowd in Jerusalem did in five days.  What will we do?

   Let us not allow this week to be just like any other week.

If you will not be here at St. Peter’s for any or all of the services through the week, at minimum please take the time to read the Passion Gospels appointed for each day.

Meditate on them and ask “What will change in my life because of this?”

Will anything change? If so, in what way?  If not, then why not?

Will we draw closer to Christ, take up our cross and follow Him?

My brethren, a lot can happen in one’s life in five days.

What will happen in ours in these next five?  Amen.

 

Lent Five / Passion Sunday (2019)

(Hebrews 9:11-15)

“Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands…”

In the 19th century BC, Lot the nephew of Abraham was taken captive by a band of kings that attacked and pillaged the land of Sodom, where Lot lived. (see Genesis 14)

When Abraham heard this news, he armed 318 of his servants and went after the band of kings, catching up to them in Dan in the land of Canaan.

Abraham and his servants defeated the band of kings, rescued Lot, and took the goods and people taken in the raid back to their home countries.

Upon Abraham’s return, Melchizedek, king of Salem and high priest of the Most High God, brought bread and wine and offered them to God, blessing and praising Him for giving Abraham victory. In thanksgiving, Abraham gave a tithe, a tenth, of the spoils he gained from his victory into the hands of Melchizedek as an offering to the Lord.

This history is important to us as Christians because in the figure of Melchizedek is a type of Jesus Christ.

There are two priestly lines in redemptive history: the Levitical line and Melchizedekian line.

The Levitical line was instituted by God at Mount Sinai.

In Exodus 28 God told Moses “…take thou unto thee Aaron thy brother (who was of the tribe of Levi), and his sons with him, from among the children of Israel, that he may minister unto me in the priest’s office”

In Aaron the Levitical priestly line was established to minister in offering the temple sacrifices, and especially on the yearly Day of Atonement, when the high priest would go behind the veil into the Holy of Holies and offer blood on the altar for the sins of the people.

The Melchizadekian line actually precedes the Levitical line.

Of this line Hebrews 7:1-3 states “Melchisedec, king of Salem, priest of the most high God…first being by interpretation King of righteousness, and after that also… King of peace; Without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life; but made like unto the Son of God; abideth a priest continually.”

Two priestly lineages: the Levitical of the Law, and the Melchizedekian of faith. Of the two, God placed Jesus in the line of Melchizedek.

Speaking of Christ, Hebrews 7:15-17 states “And it is yet far more evident: for that after the similitude of Melchisedec there ariseth another priest, Who is made, not after the law of a carnal commandment (Levitical priesthood), but after the power of an endless life. For [the Father] testifieth (of Christ), Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”

In Christ the Levetical line is fulfilled and ended, and the Melchizedekian line restored and continued.

Every priest ordained (in Apostolic Succession) in the Church from Pentecost through today is of the line of Christ, the line of Melchizedek.

It is with this understanding of the priestly lineage that today’s Epistle is better understood.

In His passion, our Lord Jesus Christ, the true and final High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, pierced the veil between heaven and earth and offered the perfect sacrifice for sin in the Most Holy Place of heaven.

Being hung between heaven and earth, Jesus, as both High Priest and Victim; offered Himself, by Himself to the Father for our sins.

Jesus’ offering was more than an atonement, more than a temporary covering for sin that needs to be repeated over and over.

It was the perfect and complete expiation, the taking away, of the sins of the world. By that perfect and complete sacrifice our sins are propitiated, satisfaction is made.

The Epistle states this truth in this way “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood [Jesus] entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.”

Every year the Levitical high priest would bring the blood of animals behind the veil in the Temple and offer it to God.

Jesus brought His own blood once, one time on Calvary. By the precious, shed blood of Jesus Christ the sins of the world are taken away.

Hebrews 9:28 states “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.”  

Brethren, if we want our sins forgiven we must go to Jesus Christ.

By faith we must receive His one, full, perfect sacrifice for our sins.

There is no other way to be saved.

The Epistle states “And for this cause [Christ] is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”

Only in Christ, by faith in Him, are we part of the covenant God made with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and David. In Christ is that covenant fulfilled.

This morning you and I have the unique opportunity to partake in the perfect sacrifice of Christ for sin when we receive the Holy Eucharist.

On this altar that one, perfect sacrifice will be re-presented to the Father.

Jesus will NOT be offered anew! No, He was offered once.

But we can partake of that one offering anew.

As we receive the bread and wine, the true Body and Blood of Jesus, we will partake of that one, perfect sacrifice anew.

And if we partake of it by faith, it will preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life!

Hebrews 10:17-19 states “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh;…Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith…”

So, let us now, with boldness and assurance in Christ’s one, perfect sacrifice for sin, which will be made really present here and re-presented to the Father here, partake by faith unto everlasting life.  Amen.

 

 

Lent Four (2019)

(Galatians 4:21-31)

“Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise.”

We are far enough into our study in Sunday school to understand St. Paul’s teaching in today’s Epistle.

We know that our relationship with God is a covenant relationship. We know that relationship began with Adam and was passed on through Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David. We know it is fulfilled in Christ.

In Christ, we are children of that promise. Galatians 3:29 states “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

St. Paul emphasizes this truth by using the examples of Abraham’s two wives; Sarah and Hagar, and the two mountains Sinai and Moriah (which is what the city of Jerusalem is built upon).

Sarah was Abraham’s natural wife. God told Abraham that she would bare a son who would be the heir of the promise God gave him, that through his seed all nations of the world would be blessed.

Hagar was Sarah’s servant girl, and when God’s promise was not fulfilled right away, Sarah became impatient and (as was custom in that day) she gave Hagar to Abraham to bare a son, which Sarah would claim as her own.

But God did not accept that son, Ishmael, as the heir of the promise. While God made Ishmael a great nation, they would not be the covenant people.

No, another would be born, a son which Sarah would conceive and bare, even though she (being 90 years old) was past the age when women bore children. And conceive she did, and Isaac was born.

Isaac was the heir God had promised. Isaac begat Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel. Israelites, Jews as we know them, were the covenant people.

As Christians, we are grafted into the covenant family and that promise given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the promise that is fulfilled in Jesus Christ.

In our study we have also learned the significance of Mt. Sinai compared to Mt. Moriah.

On Moriah, Abraham offered Isaac up by faith. God tested Abraham right up to the knife being pulled out, before stopping him and providing a ram for the sacrifice.

God tested Abraham’s faith in the promise after his lack of faith in participating in Sarah’s scheme with Hagar.

In Genesis 22:16, 17 God told Abraham “…because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven.”  Because Abraham was faithful, God reassured him the promise would be fulfilled.

In contrast, on Sinai, even while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments, the people (down below the moutain) were breaking them!

And as we have been learning, Israel continued to break them. They went after idols (false gods) and broke the covenant God made with them.

Because of this infidelity, God would not let the first generation of the Exodus enter the Promised Land. And, even after the second generation did enter, time after time Israel fell away to the point where God had to divide the tribes and exile them in foreign lands.

In these examples, St. Paul teaches the covenant received by faith is far superior then the works of the Law. Only by faith and faithfulness can we enter and remain children of the promise.

In 1 Corinthians 10:11 St. Paul states why covenant history is important to us as Christians.

Now all these things happened unto them (Israel) for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

What St. Paul is teaching us through the analogies of Sarah and Hagar, and of Mt. Sinai and Mt. Moriah, is that we must be children of faith!

What he is teaching us is we must trust the promise given to Abraham with Isaac, restored in David and fulfilled in Jesus. And then we must live as the children of that promise!

If we think there is any other way to be saved, we are greatly mistaken.

Romans 4:3 states “…Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”

Galatians 3:11 states “…The just shall live by faith.”

To be accounted righteous by God, we must believe the promise and live by faith in Jesus Christ.

The final two verses of the Epistle are very interesting.

Using Hagar and Ishmael as a type of man trying to gain God’s promise by works, we are told “Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman will never be the heir with the son of the free woman.”

This is what God told Abraham to do with Hagar and Ishmael.

He was to cast them out of his family, so there would be no confusion that the heir of the promise was Isaac.

This is what we must do with any self-righteousness we may have.

We must cast it out!  Cast it out now!

God will not allow anything we think we can do to work for our own salvation to be held in our heart with the promise, which can only be fulfilled and worked out by faith in Jesus Christ.

We are not the children of the bondwoman. We are not heirs of Ishmael. We are children of the free woman. We are the heirs of Abraham and Isaac. We are the children of faith in Jesus Christ!

Everything else must be cast out. Titus 3:5 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;

  In the examples of Sarah and Hagar, Sinai and Moriah we are taught something very important.

We are taught that God’s covenant has always been a covenant of faith.

Everyone from Abraham through St. John Baptist had to believe the Seed would one day come. Everyone from Jesus’ baptism through today must believe the Seed has come.

The Seed is Jesus Christ. May we put all our faith in Him. Amen.

 

 

    Lent Three (2019)

(St. Luke 11:14-28, Ephesians 5:1-14)

“Yeah rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.”

We live in a world that wants and looks for quick fixes.

We want drive-thru restaurants, microwave ovens, instant communication and “three steps to…” self help books.

We see this in popular religion too.

Many churches teach all we need is to “receive Jesus” in a church service or meeting and we are instantly saved, forever! This is not true!

In Romans 10:9 when St. Paul says “…if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” he is not saying all we need is a “one time” confession.

Saving faith can start there, but it can’t stop there. It can’t be the “be all and end all” of one’s salvation.

The consensus of the Church Fathers teaches that in that verse St. Paul is saying “…if you confess, and keep on confessing, and believe and keep on believing in your heart the Lord Jesus, you will, now and into the future, be saved.” There is no instant route, no ‘short cut’ to eternal life!

This truth is taught in the Gospel lesson. Jesus addresses the “Once saved, always saved” idea when He speaks of the unclean spirit that has been cast out.

When we were baptized (as a child or an adult) and each time we receive the Sacrament of Penance, sin is cast out of our house, out of our soul.

(This may also occur when a person makes a profession for Christ, but far less assuredly so).

We don’t cast the sin out, Jesus does!

As He cleansed the Temple, casting out the money changers and those who bought and sold; so He cleanses our temple, our soul which is the temple of the Holy Ghost, casting out all that compromises our faith in Him.

When the words “I baptize thee…” are said at Holy Baptism (and the water is poured on the head), and “…I absolve thee from all thy sins…” is said in the Sacrament of Penance, our sins are forgiven!  Our temple is cleansed!

The forgiveness is real. The cleansing is absolute. As Jesus describes it in the Lesson, our soul is “…swept and garnished (put in order).”

But in order to keep our soul, our home, our temple of the Holy Ghost cleansed, we need to put up a garrison, a defense, to prevent an evil spirit stronger than what was cast out from invading.

This is the great danger of “Once saved, always saved.”

It makes no provision for Satan’s counter attack!

In the Gospel, Jesus says plainly that Satan will not just accept the fact we have been baptized or had our sins absolved in the Sacrament of Penance, or made a profession for Christ. Oh, no!

He sends seven new spirits, ones that are more wicked than the one cast out, to overwhelm our garrison and retake our soul!

Those who think that because they “confessed Christ” once, back in the day, and therefore are “saved” (past tense) are greatly deceived. So are those who think “I was baptized as an infant and received Conformation as a kid.”

They’ve not fortified their garrison enough to defend against an attack from one stronger than they are! An attack that, at some point, will come.

To set up a strong garrison against Satan’s counter attack we need to put two things in place.

First, since we’ve all been baptized and confirmed, we need to have our souls cleansed in an ongoing manner. I’ve written on the Sacrament of Penance in The Keys and in my Musing on the website this past week, so I won’t go over it again now, but that is where it must start.

To set a strong garrison, one that will thwart any level of attack Satan may launch at us, our soul, our home, our temple of the Holy Ghost must be swept and garnished.

Other than baptism, nothing Jesus has provided His Church does this as the Sacrament of Penance does. It sets the footer needed to lay the bricks on.

Next, we need to lay the bricks; we need to add to the faith we have.

In 2 Peter 1:4-7 we are told “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your 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.”

In the Seven Sacraments “exceeding great and precious promises” are signed and sealed upon us, and we are made “partakers of the divine nature.”

By them we can escape the corruption of the lusts of the world within the protection of the Church’s life and ministry.

We then must begin, by grace received by faith, to add to the life of faith these seven things St. Peter lists in that passage.

Think of each of them as bricks in a strong garrison wall built around our soul, our home, our temple of the Holy Ghost.

And, we will note that these bricks are the very things that will counter what St. Paul warns us to flee from in the Epistle Lesson!

If we are building our garrison, keeping our defenses strong and immovable, we will be ready when Satan returns with the seven more wicked spirits or anything else he attacks us with!

Brethren, there is no quick way to salvation! There is no drive thru, no instant steps, to eternal life.

“Once saved, always saved” (in both its Evangelical or Catholic form) is a dangerous fallacy!

Yes, God’s grace is sufficient. But we, are not! We are sinners (have a sin nature), who sin!

Hebrews 10:12, 13 declares “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. But exhort one another daily, while it is called To day; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

If someone makes a profession for Christ, or is baptized and confirmed and then departs from the faith, how can they be saved?  There is no assurance.

We must believe today, tomorrow and each day until either we go to Christ or Christ comes for us.

Wanting things instantly in the world will not, necessarily of themselves, affect our souls. Wanting or believing in “instant salvation” will.

Today, may we believe and be building our garrison. Amen.

 

Lent Two (2019)

(1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, St. Matthew 15:21-28)

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…”

We all know the Bible verse John 3:16.

We hear it every week here at mass in the Comfortable Words.

It states “So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

When we think about this verse, we most often think in terms of our part in it and its effect. And that’s okay.

Our part in this verse is to “believe in him” and the effect for believing in Him is “everlasting life.” Both are very important!

But what we cannot overlook, and what I want us to focus on here, is the cause. I want to focus on what God the Father, by His Son Jesus, has given to us, in order that we can believe and gain everlasting life.

The first part of the verse tells us what the Father has done “…he gave his only-begotten son…”

Let’s think about that…

God the Father, the Creator of heaven and earth, gave us, fallen away sinners, His only-Son!

  The word gave in Greek is didomi. It means to bestow, as in when we give someone a gift.

When we give someone a gift, we let go of the item we give. We give it to them absolutely, totally, wholly, no strings attached.

When the Father gave Jesus this is what He did.  He gave Jesus to the world, to us, absolutely!

A good passage to help us understand this absolute giving of Jesus to the world is Philippians 2:3-6.

We are told that Jesus “…being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”

The Father’s love for us is such that He gave Jesus absolutely, totally, wholly to us, for our sins!

And Jesus, out of His love for His Father who so loves us, became man, and absolutely, totally, wholly gave all of Himself for us, even unto death upon the cross.

We see this total giving when Jesus, while hanging on the cross, has His side thrust through with a spear. From out of the wound came a little blood, and then water. He had given it all!

The sanctification St. Paul calls us to in the Epistle is not a series of things we do or don’t do in exchange for greater blessings from God.

It is the act of giving ourselves absolutely, wholly, totally to the Father in imitation of Jesus.

Sanctification is an act of love.

It says to the Father, “I so love you that I give my only-self to you no matter what I may, or may not, receive in return.”  It is giving our self absolutely. It is giving our self totally and wholly.

If we stop at merely doing things because we want something back, the Holy Ghost will not be in the act.

If we seek sanctification in order to gain salvation or (more dangerously) feel “more Christian,” then the giving of our self is not absolute. We are holding some back, waiting to see what we might gain along the way.

The other day, a man in a movie I watched said “It’s the tight rope walker without a net who makes it to the other side.”

This is true with sanctification.  It is the one who abandons themselves to the Father who gains sanctification; the one who does not have a “Plan B.”

I think a good description is given by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:10, 11.

Sanctification is “Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh.”

In the Epistle, when St. Paul says we should abstain from fornication, not act upon concupiscence (our innate tendency to sin) or defraud others, he is telling us what sanctification looks like, not how to obtain it.

Sanctification is worked out, not worked for.

When we are absolutely given to the Father in Christ we won’t do such things, because of our absolute love for the Father and absolute gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus.

I think Jesus saw this kind of absolute giving of oneself in the Canaanite woman in the Gospel Lesson.

Though she came to Jesus asking Him to heal her daughter, I think even if He had not healed her, the woman would still have believed in Him.

I think this because of the things she did and the words she said.

She fell at His feet and worshipped Him.

She knew that, though she was a Canaanite and not a daughter of Abraham, Jesus would have compassion on her.

As the Lesson tells us, Jesus recognizes the faith she has in Him!  He said “O woman, great is thy faith: be unto thee even as thou wilt.”

This is what the Jesus wants to see in us; absolute faith in Him! It doesn’t have to be perfect. It may only be the size of a mustard seed.  But it must be absolute!

When Jesus sees that, and He knows our desire is to be sanctified in Him, He will make us whole.

  So brethren, we want to steer clear of thinking sanctification is something we obtain, something we earn.

As the Collect states, it is the Holy Ghost who keeps us “…both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls

We are “actively-passive” in sanctification.  Active in that we are doing things, producing fruit and steering clear of sin in thought, word and deed.  Passive in that it is an act of absolute faith given out of love to the Father in Christ.

If we think of being active in the sense of “As I do this, God gives me that” we are off the mark. We must instead think “I give myself.”

Ultimately, sanctification is not merely deliverance from acts of sin and increased personal holiness.

It is deliverance from self reliance and total union with Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

Lent One (2019)

(2 Corinthians 6:1-10, St. Matthew 4:1-11)

“Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness…”

Life is a crucible.

Life is the place where all that we believe, know, do and experience is forged together by heat and hammering like various types of metal, into the making of, well, of us! Life makes us who we are.

We don’t like to think about life that way.

We prefer to think we have control. We prefer to think of it as a place to relax and enjoy. Some look for “heaven on earth.” That’s not realistic.

After the Fall, God told Adam “Because thou hast…eaten of the tree… cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life…In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground…”

After the Fall, God told Eve “…I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children…”

God then drove them out of Eden, to toil and sweat; knowing evil and feeling pain. One of their first sons killed the other. From that day forward life became a crucible.

With a fallen nature, man cannot forge his own way back to Eden.

No! God has to forge that way for him.

And He has, through our Lord Jesus Christ.

In Christ, and only in Christ, is there a way back to Eden.

But it is a narrow way… it is a narrow way that includes a cross!

In St. Matthew 7:14 Jesus says “…strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” In 10:38 He says “…he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.”

To be worthy of Eden we must follow after Jesus along His narrow way, carrying a cross. Not His cross, our own cross! We must be forged in the crucible of this life!

In the Epistle, St. Paul describes the crucible as he knew it.

The way back to Eden for him was forged through patience, afflictions, necessities and distresses.

He experienced being beaten and imprisoned, tumults and labor. He fasted, he prayed, he was purified in the knowledge of God by the Holy Ghost.

He was dishonored, spoken evil of and chastened. He was made sorrowful and poor. Eventually, his way to Eden included a martyr’s death.

But that was okay for St. Paul! He told the PhilippiansFor me to live is Christ, and to die is gain!”

He said “…I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things…That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable to his death; that if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead!” 

St. Paul was willingly forged in the crucible of life, using all that it brought upon him to make a way, in Christ, back to Eden.

Our way back to Eden will not be the same as St. Paul’s. At least hopefully.

It may include some similar components, but it will not be the same.

But our way back will certainly include the three things Satan tempted Jesus with: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life!

The Gospel states, after 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was hungry and Satan tempted Him to turn stone into bread. Jesus is the Son of God, and Satan tempted Him to throw Himself off the Temple pinnacle so the angels would rescue Him. The Father promised Jesus all power and authority in heaven and on earth, and Satan tempted Him to take that power before the Father gave it to Him after His suffering and His resurrection from the dead.

In 1 John 2:15-17, the Apostle warns us: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

If we want to make our way back to Eden, we must resist the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life. We must do the will of God.

Doing God’s will, will increase the heat and the pressure we feel in the crucible of life. The world will continually crash upon us like ocean waves in a storm, beating upon us, trying to erode away our faith in Christ.

And yet, we can remain faithful!  We must remain faithful!

We know what the Via Dolorosa is.

It is the path Jesus trod from Pilate’s court to Golgatha. It wound through the narrow streets of Jerusalem; a way filled with ups and downs, and ultimately a climb up Mount Calvary. In Latin it means “way of grief,” “way of sorrow,” “way of suffering,” or “painful way.”

This is the narrow path Jesus calls us to follow! Not the broad way that many follow, but the narrow way that few follow, following Him.

Like Jesus, who fell three times under the weight of the cross He carried for our sins along the Via Dolorosa, we will fall under the weight of our own sins.

But like Him, in imitation of Him, filled with the grace and power of His Holy Spirit, we must get up and keep walking the way!

True, death is waiting for us at the end, at the top of that way!

Death to ourselves; our pride, our ego and our lusts!

But that is the way, the only way, back to Eden!

To the Galatians St. Paul exclaimed “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.” 

What Jesus is offering to us, is what He offered to St. Paul and He offers to all who are baptized into Him.

He is offering Himself; the Way, the Truth and the Life! He is inviting us to follow Him!  May we accept His invitation.

And no matter what we may encounter along our way back to Eden, may we be willing to keep walking that narrow way, getting up when we fall, in order to be conformed to and found in Him.

Yes, life is a crucible. Yet if we follow the narrow way of Jesus, the Via Dolorosa, the way of the cross, it will lead us back to Eden!  Amen.

 

Ash Wednesday (2019)

(Joel 2:12-17, St. Matthew 6:16-21)

“Turn ye even to me, saith the Lord, with all your heart.”

Throughout the “Gesima season” the Prayer Book’s Evening Prayer lectionary had us read the prophecies of Amos and Hosea.

Both of these prophets were real men, who wrote in a real-time of history.

They are contemporaries, both writing in the 8th century BC.

Both prophesied the coming judgment of God upon the nations of Israel and Judah, which had been divided from each other in 930 BC.

Though Israel and Judah were God’s chosen people, their sinfulness had become so great, and their hearts so hard, that they no longer could hear God calling them back to repentance. Because of this, God was going to send enemies to attack them and take them captive.

Israel proper would never be restored (Israel today is the continuation of the restored Judah). Judah would be restored, but only after 70 years of exile in Babylon, and only because God had promised David that, because of his faithfulness, there would always be one to sit on his throne.

These prophecies are important to us as Christians based on what St. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:11Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”

These prophecies are important because before God judged the people of Israel and Judah, He gave them so much and warned them so patiently.

Through Abraham He brought them into covenant with Him, sealing it with circumcision. Through Moses He delivered them from captivity in Egypt and gave them the righteous Law. Through David and Solomon He dwelt among them in the Temple.

But still, they rejected God!  They turned away from Him to idols. They worshipped pagan gods and even sacrificed their children to them.

Despite this, God did not give up on them!  He sent prophet after prophet to them; warning them, pleading with them even to repent and return to Him.

They refused, leaving God no other choice but to bring His wrath upon them and judge them by the hands of the Assyrians and Babylonians.

  All that happened to Israel and Judah is important for us today because, we are, today, in the place they were.

The Church is the people whom God has brought into covenant with Him through our Lord Jesus Christ.

We’ve been given the Sacrament of Holy Baptism to sign and seal that covenant upon us. We have been given Sacred Scripture, the Old Testament and the New Testament, to instruct us on how God wants us to live.

The Scriptures are for us, real men and women, at this real time in history.

He has given us the Church Fathers, and godly bishops and priests over the centuries now, to help us rightly divide and live out that instruction.

Above all, He has given us His only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die for us, for our sins, and then has given us the means to feed upon His resurrected life in the Holy Eucharist.

What is the Church, much of it at least, doing with these great blessings?

Are we, like Israel and Judah just taking them for granted?

Too many toss aside God’s means of grace so casually.

When we look around what do we see as a result?

We see many Christians that have become idolaters like Israel and Judah; and even worst! Our idols are not ignorant pieces of wood and stone. No, ours are sophisticated!

Our idols are the world, the flesh and the devil dressed up and accepted as so many niceties! Our idols are cell phones and computers, sports and entertainment celebrities, possessions and wealth.

Our children are sacrificed by apostate clergy and their churches, law makers, school boards and educators, and doctors in clinics!

There are righteous clergy, and righteous Christian lay men and women out there who are striving to live faithfully, speaking the truth and willing to lead, but so many just yawn and rollover. Others say, “I agree, now please move out of the way, I’m trying to watch my TV show.”

Who are we listening to? Whose way are we following? What is really important to us? What can we not live without?

We don’t have to be doing overt evil to be following the way of the world, the flesh, and the devil. In fact, Satan prefers grey over black. It fools us into thinking we’re fine.

Brethren, as Israel and Judah, so one day God will judge His Church.

When that day and hour is, no man knows, but Jesus has made it clear it will one day come.

What will happen to us on that day? Where will we end up eternally?

We need to consider this now, today, while we can.

As it was for Israel and Judah, one day it will be too late for us.

For today, it is not too late. For today, there is forgiveness, restoration and the assurance of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

But to be assured of that eternal life, we need to heed God’s warnings in His Word. We need to believe and follow the way of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Lessons instruct us what we are to do and how to get started.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells us to “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:”

This is wholly our choice. God gives us the grace we need to follow Him.

In the lesson from Joel we are told how to get started: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly: Gather the people, sanctify the congregation… Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them:”

The trumpet is being blown today!  The fast is being initiated!

The people are gathered! Here today, on Ash Wednesday, we have joined with the faithful in the Church throughout the world.

May we remain faithful through these next 40 days and onward.

May we keep a holy Lent.  Amen.

 

Quinquagesima (2019)

(St. Luke 18:31-43, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted upon: And they shall scourge him, and put him to death”

   As you know, Lent begins this Wednesday.

In Lent, the Church refocuses her attention upon two key components of our salvation: the suffering and death of Jesus.

   In the passage I read to begin this sermon, we see it is Jesus Himself who identifies these two as main components of the theme of Lent.

He is the one who told His apostles He would suffer.

He is the one who told them He would be put to death.

Yet in doing so He makes it clear He was not a “victim of circumstance.”

He offered Himself as the Lamb of God whom the prophets had foretold would be the One to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Today’s Gospel begins with our Lord telling His apostles: “Behold we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written in the prophets concerning the Son of man shall be accomplished.” 

He made it clear that all that was about to occur was His Father’s will.

No one would take His life from Him; rather He would willingly lay it down in obedience to the Father and out of love for us and the whole world.

When St. Paul defines love in today’s Epistle he is describing the perfect love of our Lord Jesus Christ; the kind of love that has mercy upon a blind man, even while knowingly facing the terror of the Passion and the Cross.

This is the kind of love we are to be working towards; a love that gives at all times and in all circumstances to anyone in need.

Jesus knew that the Father’s justice required the wages of sin be paid for.

Because He is God and the only-begotten Son of God, He knew it was for this reason He had come into the world.

The world needed a Savior and only He was qualified to save it.

He knew the only way our sins could be forgiven completely was by His own suffering and death, and so He willingly gave His life for ours.

Hebrews 9:22 states that only by the shedding of blood; only by death, is sin remitted.  Jesus shed His perfect blood and gave His sinless life for that very purpose.

This is what the season of Lent will focus on:  His suffering and His death.

Throughout the season as we read and hear the lessons at mass and in the daily offices, may we get refocused on these means of our salvation: the suffering and death of Jesus Christ!

Lent is also a time when Christians raise the level of their personal acts of discipline.

Some do this by fasting, giving up something that is not in itself sinful, but is something they enjoy.

Some increase abstinence, lessening amounts or quality of food and drink.

Others pay greater attention to vices and other acts of sin they give into too often, in prayerful hope that by increased discipline, God’s grace will strengthen them to overcome them for good.

Some add something to their life, like more time for daily prayer or study.

Some get consistently involved in good works.

Each of these is good.  Scripture and Tradition commends them all.

Done faithfully, they can aid and strengthen our faith.

But we have to be careful to prevent a “shift” from taking place.

We must not shift the emphasis of Lent away from the salvation Christ has won for us by His work; His sufferings and death, to trying to save ourselves by our own works and discipline.

As St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote before his martyrdom “I know my mere sufferings cannot in themselves gain me justification.

Scripture commands us to work out our own salvation, not work for it.

We cannot become “more saved” or “better saved” by our works.

We can become more holy and more Christ-like, but not more saved.

It is Christ, and Christ alone who has gained our salvation.

Our part is to receive it by faith and live it faithfully.

Christ’s sufferings and death alone are the propitiation (the taking away) and the expiation (full satisfaction) for the sins of the world.

There is nothing we can do instead of, or to supplement, what He has already so perfectly done.

Without His suffering and death our disciplines (Lenten or otherwise) would be meaningless.

But because Jesus did suffer.  Because He did die on the Cross.

Because He did give His life as a ransom for our lives, and the Father has accepted it as the payment of our sin debt; the works of faith and the disciplines we practice draw us closer to Christ. And in being closer to Him, our hope of everlasting life is strengthened.

   As our Lord was hanging on the Cross, before He dismissed His spirit, He summed up our salvation in three words: “It is finished.” 

How true this is!

Christ has suffered and died as the perfect sin offering and has risen from the dead in undeniable proof the Father has received His offering.

He truly is the Lamb of God who has taken away the sins of the world!

What we must now do, all we can do, is receive His finished work by faith; work it out in our daily lives and use the disciplines we will start in Lent to draw us more faithfully to Christ.

Our salvation is really no more complicated than this.

  May all that Jesus accomplished in His sufferings and death be ever more deeply impressed upon us in this upcoming Lenten season.  Amen.

Priestly Ordination of Damian Alan Trudeau

Preached on Saturday, March 2, 2019 at St. David’s, ACC, Charlottesville, VA

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

The rubric at the beginning of The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests in the Prayer Book is quite clear as to what the content of this sermon is to be.

The homilist on these occasions is to address three things: The Duty and Office of a Priest, the Necessity of this order in the Church, and the Esteem the people are to give those ordained to this office.

This being the assigned task, I will now speak to each.  

The Duty and Office of the priest is plainly spelled out for us in Scripture.

In the Epistle lesson we will hear today from Ephesians 4, St. Paul tells us “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”

Our Lord Jesus Christ has ordered His Church in such a way where the offices of prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher have been combined in the one office of the priest.

He is to exercise this one office under the authority of and in communion with his Bishop, who as a successor of the Apostles is the vicar of Christ in his jurisdiction.

In the parish in which the priest is assigned, or wherever and whenever he presides in the person of Christ at the Holy Eucharist, he is to exercise this office with fidelity.

The priest is the “watchman” and “shepherd” described by the prophet Ezekiel. He is to hear the Word at the mouth of God and warn the people of approaching enemies. He is to feed the flock and protect them so they do not become the prey of Satan, the enemy of souls.

In St. John 10, Jesus says the priest must not be an hireling. If necessary, he must lay down his life for the sheep.

In his first epistle, St. Peter exhorts “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”

In 2 Timothy 4:2 St. Paul exhorts “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.”

This is the duty and office of a priest.

Today’s Epistle from Ephesians 4 also tells us this office is necessary “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:”

The Church is always in need of “perfecting”; which in Greek means “completely furnished and equipped.”

The Church is always in need of edification. It always needs to be built up and kept strong in Christ.

The Church is always in need of unity; with her bishops and with Christ.

As we look around today what do we see?

We see many Christians who are ignorant of the Faith! We see many Christians who are completely incapable of “giving an answer to those who ask a reason for the hope they have in Christ.” (1 Peter 3:15)

We see this ignorance and incapability because too many are not being taught Sacred Scripture, rightly divided by the Sacred Tradition of the Fathers, and too few feed upon Christ by faith in the Holy Eucharist.

We live in a day when many no longer endure sound doctrine and have turned their ears from the truth to fables.(2 Timothy 4:3, 4) Many reject partaking of Jesus’ Body and Blood as “an hard saying.” (St. John 6:60)

This being the situation, what is more necessary than the priesthood?

The 19th century French priest Jean-Baptiste Chautard wrote “A holy priest makes a fervent people; a fervent priest makes a pious people; a pious priest makes a decent people; and a decent priest, a godless people.”

The Church does not need mere “decent” priests. She needs holy priests!

She needs men of faith, men of prayer, men of study, men of the Sacraments, men of meekness.

She needs men who take up their cross and follow Christ.

The Gospel lesson we will hear tells us most perfectly why this office is needed: “The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few…”

Today and always, the office of the priest is necessary in the Church.

Because the office of the priesthood is necessary, it is to be esteemed.

To the Thessalonians St. Paul wrote “…we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.”

My brothers and sisters of the laity, esteem your priests!

You may not always like them, but you need to love them.

You may have personality differences with them, but you need to respect their office. You may disagree with them, but you need to hear them.

Trust they have been called by the Holy Spirit, examined for orthodoxy and properly ordained by the Bishop.

Trust their love for you, and that they want to serve you.

When disagreements occur, seek resolutions. If they hurt you, seek reconciliation not retribution. This is not to excuse bad behavior! Not at all!

Love, respect and hear them, if not for who they are, then for the office they hold. As they strive to be faithful, so strive to esteem them.

Father Trudeau, it is not my place to give you a charge here this morning.

Our Bishop will do this, in faithful execution of his Apostolic office.

I would like to conclude with a brief passage from the book The Priest: His Dignity and Obligations written by St. John Eudes in the 17th century:

  You, O priests, are the most noble part of the Mystical Body of Christ. You are the eyes, the mouth, the tongue, the heart of the Church, in other words, of Jesus Christ Himself. You are His eyes for through you the Good Shepherd watches over His flock. Through you He enlightens and guides His sheep. Through you He weeps over the transgressions of those who fall by the wayside, or become prey of the wolves. Through you He weeps over the death of His dear Lazarus, that is, of the souls of those who are dead through sin. You are His mouth and His tongue. Through you He speaks to His people, continuing to preach the gospel that He Himself preached during His public life. You are His heart. Through you He imparts true life, the life of grace on earth and the life of glory in heaven to all the members of His Mystical Body. What marvels, what favors, what greatness in the sacerdotal dignity!

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

 

Sexagesima (2019)

(2 Corinthians 11:19-31, St. Luke 8:4-15)

“Howbeit whereinsoever any is bold (I speak foolishly) I am bold also.”

In this morning’s Epistle lesson, St. Paul provides a litany of proofs of his apostleship, compared to others who falsely say they are apostles.

In Philippians 3:4-6, he provides a similar litany, but in Philippians it is a litany of “proofs” of his righteousness before God.

He writes: “…If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal…touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”

He tells the Philippians he has all the external marks of a righteous Jew.

But then he says something very remarkable.

He says none of those marks truly matter!

“So what” if he is a circumcised Hebrew, a Benjamite, a Pharisee, zealous and blameless according to the Law.  None of that matters if he doesn’t know Christ!

Continuing on in Philippians 3:7-9 he writes:  “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:”

The true proof that St. Paul was righteous before God was not his religious zeal. It was his faith in Jesus Christ. Nothing other than that mattered!

As I thought about this passage, I found that I could put together my own foolish litany of “proofs.” Here it is:

I was born into and raised in a branch of the Church Catholic.

I was baptized 18 days after my birth.

I received the sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion for the first time at age seven. I was confirmed at 13. I was an altar boy for six years.

I went to Catholic school for 12 years.

I was converted, getting serious about the Faith, at age 20.

I was a co-founder of Cops for Christ in Greater Cleveland and directed that ministry for five years.

For three years, I hosted a program on Christian radio twice per month.

For the past 23 years I have served in the sacred ministry.

That is my litany. But you know what? Who cares!

None of those things, alone or together, can make me righteous!

If I have not captured Christ! If I have not “won” Christ. If I am not “found” in Him, none of those things matter!

If I could boast (and I can’t), the one thing I can boast of is, that by God’s grace, the seed sown by the Sower has taken root in my soul by faith and has produced some small amount of fruit.

That’s what matters. All that’s in my foolish litany means nothing if I do not have faith in Jesus Christ today!

I’m sure that each of you could put together your own litany of proofs.

And likely yours is far more impressive, and effective, than mine.

You’ve received sacraments. You’ve ministered in and out of the Church for many years, and in ways far greater.  You’ve produced abundant fruit.

But is that what matters? Is that what we think makes us righteous?

Our righteousness before God is not inherent, nor is it something we can create by our own works.

Our righteousness before God is an infused righteousness. It is Christ’s righteousness accounted to us by grace through faith in Jesus.

Romans 4:3 states “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.”  Like Abraham, we too are accounted righteous as we believe God, as we believe upon Jesus Christ by grace through faith.

Galatians 3:9 states “So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.”

Theologically stated: “We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and not of our own works or derservings.”

Biblically, Ephesians 2:8, 9 states “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

If we can boast in any way about righteousness, it’s that by grace we have received Christ by faith; and that, that faith has produced some good works, some fruit, some evidence of Christ’s righteousness in us.

Beyond that, other than that, what can we say?

Certainly we have nothing to boast about of ourselves.

2 Corinthians 3:5 states: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;

When I preach I have a general concern; both for myself as the presenter, as well as for those who hear each sermon.

My concern is that we, our souls, will be like the rocky soil Jesus describes in the today’s Gospel parable.

In His explanation of the parable, Jesus says the rocky soil is like those whose soul receives the Word with great joy.

As we hear (as I write and preach) we think “Yes Lord, you are speaking to me!” and we leave mass filled with joy about what we’ve heard.

But then temptations come, or the cares of the world surround us and the seed of Gods’ Word tends to wither or get choked, and it dies.

Let us pray that will not happen to us today. Not with this message!

It is too important! Not my words, but the principles of God’s Word.

We must always remember that whatever our litany of works is, it does not make us righteous before God!

Our righteousness is the righteousness of Christ accounted to us, infused into us, by grace through faith.

Yes, we are to do good works. But they are the fruit, the evidence, of a true and lively faith. Not its means, not its substance.

They are privileged opportunities God provides us to give evidence our faith is true.

By grace, may we receive and understand what the Sower has sown today in these Scripture lessons, and by faith believe it and be accounted righteous.

And may that faith take root to “bring forth fruit with patience.” Amen.

 

Septuagesima (2019)

(St. Matthew 20:1-16, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

“..thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day.”

How do we feel about the labor God has given to the Church?

Is it a blessing, or is it a burden?

In the Gospel lesson, the laborers hired by the householder early in the day complained because they saw their work in the vineyard as a burden.

They were focused on the heat of the day, instead of the wage they were to receive at its end.

They valued being idle over working. That sort of thinking is errant.

Think of it, as we age we bemoan the fact there are things we used to be able to do, that we can no longer do. Part of the “race against aging” is keeping ourselves able to do as much labor as we can.

Labor is a blessing! Being idle is a curse.

The complaining laborers didn’t see it that way.

Maybe before we can answer the question I’ve posed, it would be wise for us to consider what the labor of the Church is.

The Church’s labor is four fold. The Church’s labor is Prayer, Study, The Sacramental life, and Good Works. Let us take a moment to define each.

Prayer is a very important labor of the Church, but often overlooked.

Too often we fit prayer into our lives, instead of building it into our lives.

Too often we rush it, skip it, or do it only when we want something.

Prayer is a privilege. Prayer is a blessing. But prayer is also labor.

In Colossians 4:12 we are told “Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.”

Epaphras labored in prayer for his fellow Colossians! It was his privilege to do so! Prayer is part of the blessed labor God has given to the Church.

Study is another labor of the Church.

We should not merely be readers of Scripture; we should be students of it. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

We cannot truly know God or His plan for us, if we do not know His Word.

And if we are to know His Word, we must be willing to labor in it “precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:” as Isaiah 28:10 teaches.

As we labor in the Word, we gain the “mind of Christ,” we learn how to think God’s thoughts after Him. Study is a blessed labor of the Church.

A third labor of the Church is the Sacramental life.

Our Church makes all Seven Sacraments available to us.

Do we avail ourselves to them?  Do we make use of all seven?

When we feel lost, do we recall the grace we’ve been given in our Baptism, and the adoption we’ve received from it?

When we feel weak, do we remember we have been given the gift of “Ghostly strength” in Confirmation?

Do we hunger and thirst to receive Christ in the Holy Eucharist? Do we think “Is it Sunday yet?” Or, “Boy, I wish I could sleep in.” ?

Do we get a spiritual “check up” at least once per year in the Sacrament of Penance? We often forget, the Sacrament of Penance “resets” our soul and returns it to the full state of baptismal grace. No other Sacrament does this.

When ill or having surgery do we, as St. James 5:14 states “…call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over [us], anointing [us] with oil in the name of the Lord:”?  This is the Sacrament of Holy Unction.

When marriage is challenging do we recall our vows, or listen to friends? When we need guidance do we go to the priest or do a search on Google?

Building the Sacraments into our lives and our lives upon the Sacraments provides us great strength, the strength we need to do the labor of the Church. And of itself is a labor of the Church.

The fourth labor of the Church is Good Works.

Good works are too often understood to be the things we do, instead of who we are…

To the Philippians St. Paul said “Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  Ephesians 2:10 states For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” We are the “good work” of Christ. Nothing we do is truly a good work unless we first are the good work of Christ.

Philippians 2:12 exhorts us to “…work out your own salvation…” We work out, what Christ by the Holy Ghost has worked in.

It is in Christ we labor in God’s vineyard. That labor includes everything we do, or as St. Paul states it in 1 Corinthians 10:31Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.”

Now knowing that Prayer, Study, the Sacramental Life and Good Works is the labor of the Church, how do we feel about it?

Do we see it as a burden the way those first workers in the vineyard did, or as a blessing?

If we see it as a blessing it won’t matter how long the householder asks us to labor, even though we’ll get the same wage as those who are hired for merely an hour get.

We will see the work itself as a blessing, a privilege even!

We can’t picture ourselves doing anything other.

Let’s step back think about this…the Householder, God the Father Almighty has called you and me to labor…for Him!

Can it become a grind at times? Sure it can.

Does the heat bear down on us at times? Absolutely.

But the grind and the heat are more than worth it!

They are worth it because the wage we will receive for our labor is eternal.

In the Epistle St. Paul reminds us we labor for an “incorruptible” crown; a prize that can never be taken away.

Brethren, the Householder has called us to labor in His vineyard.

Will we go, or will we duck behind others so we can stand idle?

I think that depends on whether we see this labor as a burden…or a blessing.  Amen.

 

 

Epiphany Five (2019)

(St. Matthew 13:24-30, Colossians 3:12-17)

“Gather ye together first the tares, and bring them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

My experience has been that we Anglican Catholics do not like to talk about God’s judgment. At least not our own judgment. But then, most Christians today in general don’t.

The exception to this is some of the “old style” churches where God’s judgment is part of almost every sermon, to the point where one could conclude God is only a judge.

I don’t think we need to go there, but in good conscience, as men and women who believe the Scriptures, we can’t avoid it completely.

In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament teachings of Jesus, God speaks to and warns of the Day of Judgment to come.

Sometimes He does so directly and other times He does so indirectly.

Today’s Gospel is one of those indirect teachings. While Jesus’ parable is primarily a teaching on the Kingdom of God, it includes an indirect teaching on judgment.

  Throughout history, including today, God allows the “tares,” those who do not believe in Christ for salvation, to grow up and live “…in his field…” with the “wheat,” those who do believe upon Christ for salvation.

On God’s appointed day, on the Last Day, this will change.

He will send His angels into His field to reap.

The angels will know who are wheat and who are tares.

The tares they will gather up and bundle to be burned in the fires of hell.

The wheat they will gather up and place in the barn of heaven.

The first question that may come to mind is “How do the angels know who is a tare and who is wheat?”

They will know by what they see.

I’ve not studied agriculture, but I’ve read that, at least for a time while growing, tares and wheat look alike. Over time that changes, but for a good while they look enough the same to exist in the same field.

But at some point before harvest, tares and wheat begin to look different. Noticeably different.

Farmers can see this and so they pull the tares out of their fields first and then harvest the wheat.

This is what the angels will do. They will know the tares from the wheat because they will see our works.

In the Epistle, St. Paul states the saving faith of the wheat; those who are the “holy and beloved elect of God,” put on some very distinct works.

They have hearts filled with compassion for their fellow believers and even non-believers.

They are kind.

They are meek and long-suffering towards others.

They forebear and forgive one another.  Instead of holding onto anger and building up resentment towards others, they forgive as Christ has forgiven them. This isn’t easy, but it’s what wheat does.

Above all they love one another as Christ loves them. Christ-like love is “Maundy Thursday love,” as Jesus teaches in St. John 13:14-35.

This love serves one another. It washes one another’s feet.

It is willing to lay down its life for one’s friends, and for enemies. Most often, laying down our lives these days means checking our ego at the door and esteeming others more highly than ourselves as Philippians 2:3 exhorts.

In St. John 13:35 Jesus says “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

By this kind of love we show ourselves to be wheat; to ourselves, to the world and to the angels who will reap the harvest on that final Day.

Scripture teaches there are actually two judgments. Or better stated, there are two parts to God’s judgment.

There is the “Particular Judgment” and the “Last Judgment.”

The Particular Judgment is what Jesus is addressing in this morning’s Gospel. In this judgment our individual eternal destiny, whether our soul will spend eternity in heaven or in hell, is determined.

If by faith and the good works produced by faith we have shown ourselves to be wheat, then we will be brought into the barn of Paradise to await the Last Judgment and our eternal rest in heaven.

If we did not have faith made evident in our works and have shown ourselves to be a tare, then we will be placed in bundles in Sheol to await the Last Judgment and an eternity in the fires of hell.

The Last Judgment is described for us St. Matthew 25:31-46.

We may know this judgment as the separation of the sheep (wheat) and the goats (tares).

While our eternal destiny (who are sheep and who are goats) has already been determined by the Particular Judgment, this “second” judgment (or the second part of the Judgment) is still necessary.

In this judgment God will show us the consequences of all the actions of our lives, good and bad.

We will see how the decisions and actions (or non-actions) we took in our lives affected others, and how those we had the chance to affect acted towards the people they had the chance to affect in their lives.

We will see the ultimate meaning of our own lives as wells as all of history.

Think of this as a puzzle of trillions and trillions of scattered pieces. In this judgment God will bring all those trillions and trillions of pieces together so we can see the whole (and I mean the whole) picture of redemption; how the whole of redemption came together, as well as our part in it.

We will no longer “see through a glass darkly…”, we will see “face to face.”  (1 Corinthians 13:12).

  Brethren, it’s not comfortable to think about God’s judgment. But we must.

Since we have faith in Christ and are striving to do the good works of faith prepared for us to do, we should not live in fear of the Judgment. But, we equally must not become slack.

At the beginning of St. Matthew 25 (the primary chapter of Jesus’ teaching about the Judgment) He tells the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins.

The wise virgins remained prepared for the bridegroom to come. They kept the oil of faithful good works in their lamps. The foolish virgins “slumbered” and let their lamps run out of the oil of faithful good works.

When the Bridegroom arrived, the wise virgins could go out to meet Him, but the foolish virgins could not and were locked outside the marriage feast.

Jesus’ point in each of His parables about judgment is clear.

Wise virgins, sheep and wheat remain faithful in good works and prepared.

Foolish virgins, goats and tares do not.

This choice is ours.

God has given us, and continues to give us, the grace we need to have a true and lively faith in Christ; a faith evidenced by good works as St. James teaches in his epistle.

We have the grace to be wheat!

Grace are the roots, faith is the stalk and works are the spike which is the part harvested and used for food.

In AD 107 St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr wrote “I am God’s wheat and shall be ground by [the lion’s] teeth, so that I may be Christ’s pure bread.”

May we choose to use that grace to be wheat. Amen.

 

The Feast of the Purification (2019)

(St. Luke 2:22-40)

“And, behold there was in Jerusalem a man named Simeon…”

I was a “rink rat” growing up.

The city I grew up in had an indoor ice rink and I would hang out there as much as I could.

I’d keep my skates with me and would look for any opportunity to get on the ice. On weekend nights I’d drag my hockey equipment with me to public skating to see if I could play with the guys renting the ice afterwards.

Usually they’d let me and, because goalies were needed, I’d play for free.

Most of the time I’d be given a ride, but sometimes I’d have to walk the 3-4 miles home late at night, often in the snow.

As a kid I also remember seeing what I affectionately think of as “church rats” at the local parish.

As I cut through the property on my way to and from other places, I’d see  typically older men and women, likely retired, who seemed to be somewhere on the parish property all the time.

I’d see them pulling weeds, caring for the priest’s vegetable garden, throwing salt on the walkways or just puttering around the grounds.

Then there were other times when I saw them inside the church praying.

Back in those days the church’s doors were open through the day and I’d go inside to get a drink of water or warm up as I cut through the property.

I’d see them kneeling or sitting in a pew just praying, no one else around. Mass was not about to begin nor had it recently ended.

It was just them, alone, with God. I admired this, a lot.

In this morning’s Gospel Lesson from St. Luke we are told about two great “church rats,” Simeon and Anna.

Simeon was a devout man and a prophet. He was daily at the Temple praying without ceasing for the “consolation,” the redemption, of Israel. The Holy Ghost was upon him and had revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Christ face to face.

Once he saw the infant Jesus’ face, his work as a prayer warrior was finished and he proclaimed he was ready to depart in peace. His declaration of praise is recorded in the Nunc dimittis, which we will hear this morning during the offertory.

Anna was a prophetess and a widow who lived at the Temple.

For eighty-four years (“four score and four”) she was day and night inside the Temple gates, praying and fasting. When she saw the infant Jesus, she praised God and told everyone that salvation had come to Israel. (P

We don’t have many “church rats” today.

In part this is because, for safety purposes, our churches are not open like they used to be.  But even if they were, few would likely take advantage of it. We’re busy (doing what I’m not always sure?) so few have time to putter around the church or, more importantly, sit in the sanctuary to pray.

I think the Church has really lost something.

And yet, we don’t have to be on parish property to be a “church rat.”

Unlike Israel we don’t have one, centralized place of worship.

In St. John 4:21, 23 Jesus told the woman at the well “Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”

We live in that hour!

While Church buildings (such as ours) where orthodox, Biblical, sacramental worship takes place are important, they are not essential to the same level the Temple in Jerusalem was.

If it became necessary, we, like the early Church, could worship God fully and properly, that is…in spirit and in truth, with decency and order, and in the beauty of holiness, anywhere.

All we need is a proper priest, and bread and wine (and a table would be nice), and we can “Do this” as Jesus commanded.

We then can be “church rats” in this 21st century!

We can live with the attitude of Simeon and Anna.

We can commit our lives to prayer, setting our hearts and minds on Christ and His Church.

Here are some ideas…

Every morning we can begin our day with prayer, and then pray Morning Prayer too. Here is a little saying to remind us to start our day with prayer.

It goes…“Regularity and fidelity in rising in the morning are of capital importance. It is a question of giving the first moments of the day to our Lord or to His enemy, and whole day bares a reflection of this first choice.”

Then throughout, we can sprinkle our day with little prayers or take time in the midst of our day for prayer, to keep our mind on the things of God.

This is what it means to “pray without ceasing.”

Colossians 2:1, 2 states “If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection (thought process) on things above, not on things on the earth.”

When opportunities arise to worship, work at or serve our parish, or our fellow parishioners we can be the one who is there.

We can then end our day with Evening Prayer and then pray again before we go to sleep.  

The point it, we may not be able to be physically at the church day and night like Anna, or daily like Simeon, but our hearts and minds can be on it, they can be on Christ and His Church, like theirs was.

We can pray for the whole Church, the ACC, the Joint Synod churches, and our parish. We can pray for our bishops and other clergy. The Diocesan Cycle of Prayer guides us in doing this.

We can pray for lay readers and those who serve before, during and after mass. We can pray for Church musicians and singers.

We can pray for Church-school teachers. We can pray for our fellow parishioners and for those who may visit (and pray more will visit!).

We don’t have to be physically at the church to be a “church rat,” but we do need to have the spirit, desire and mindfulness of one.

The benefits of being a “church rat” are great.

Look at Simeon and Anna.

For all their love, care, attention and prayers for Israel, they got see Jesus face to face, something we all desire to one day do.

Well worth their effort, wouldn’t you agree? Amen.

Epiphany Three (2019)

(St. John 2:1-11)

“This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory”

The Gospel accounts are filled with the miracles of Jesus.

St. John 20:30 attests He performed many more miracles than the ones recorded in the Scriptures, but a good number are recorded in them.

The miracles of Jesus can be put into two categories.

He performed supernatural miracles and supranatural miracles.

Supernatural miracles are miracles that exceed nature.

They are events that are possible within nature, but since Jesus’ power exceeds nature, it alters or speeds up the natural process.

The vast majority of Jesus’ miracles are supernatural. They include His healings and His commands over the weather. When Jesus gave sight to the blind, healed lepers or the woman with the issue of blood, or told the winds and waves to calm, He performed a supernatural miracle.

Healings and changes in weather are all possible within the natural realm. Jesus used His divine power and authority to affect, often alter if not reverse, what was happening naturally to bring healing and calm.

Supranatural miracles transcend nature.

They step outside of nature, creating a result that nature could not create.

Scripture records two supranatural miracles of Jesus. They are His first miracle and His final miracle.

The first is recorded for us in this morning’s Gospel lesson.

Scripture states Jesus, His disciples and the Blessed Virgin Mary were invited to a marriage reception. During the celebration, St. Mary became aware the bridegroom had underestimated the amount of wine he would need for his guests and ran out. She told Jesus and asked Him to help.

Though Jesus was not yet ready to make His power public, He honored His holy Mother’s petition and instructed the porters to fill six stone pots to the brim with water.

What happened next is a supranatural miracle!  When the governor of the feast tasted what was drawn out of one of the pots, he tasted wine!

Jesus had turned the water in those stone pots into wine!  And not just any wine, he tasted the best wine the porter had ever tasted!

It is not natural for water to turn into wine. Water is part of the process of wine making, but it’s not possible within nature for one to become the other.

Only the power of Jesus is able to go outside of nature and turn one element into another. This is what He did at the wedding feast in Cana, the first of His two supranatural miracles.

Jesus performed His second supranatural miracle at the end of His ministry. In fact it was within the final twenty-four hours of His life.

Scripture tells us on that final night, Jesus gathered with His twelve Apostles in an upper room to celebrate the Passover. At the end of the meal, St. Matthew 26:26-28 tells us: “Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.

With these words, Jesus performed a supranatural miracle. What the Apostle’s ate and drank was not common bread and wine! Jesus had transformed the bread and wine into His very Body and Blood.

This second supranatural miracle is even greater than His first.

At Cana He transformed one natural element, water, into another natural element, wine. This is something nature cannot do, but as God, Jesus can.

In the upper room He transformed two natural elements, bread and wine into a divine element, His Body and Blood.  This is something only the Son of God can do.

The Holy Eucharist is Jesus’ greatest miracle!

His other miracles affected one person, the person healed, or a small group like the guests of the wedding feast or the Apostles on the sea.

The Eucharist affects the whole world!

In St. John 6:51 Jesus says “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

The bread and wine transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood is the sacrament of salvation!

In 1 Corinthians 11:26 we are told “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come.”

You and I are very blessed.

We get to witness Jesus’ greatest supranatural miracle at every mass!

Moreover we get to receive that miracle at every mass!

By the bread and wine transformed into Jesus’ Body and Blood we feed on the life of Christ, the “medicine of immortality,” unto everlasting life.

This next part is very important…

How Jesus accomplishes this miracle is not known. And, as many of the Church Fathers taught, “how” is best left as a Holy Mystery.

We also do not know “how” Jesus turned the water into wine, or healed, or calmed the seas, other than by His divine power, which is all we really need to know about “how.”

It is essential though that we know what this miracle is.

We must know, believe and confess the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Jesus, given to us as food for our bodies and souls.

By keeping our focus on the what and not the how we can best receive the miracle of the Eucharist as Christ intended, by faith.

Brethren, Jesus performed two supranatural miracles during His three year earthly ministry. They were His first miracle and His final miracle.

The first brought joy to a young bridegroom, his bride and their marriage guests. The final brings the joy of salvation to the whole world.

And to those who receive it by faith, knowing what (knowing Who) is given, it gives the greatest of joys; everlasting life.

May you and I be among those who receive this miracle of Jesus by faith, and in doing so may we receive it unto everlasting life.  Amen.

 

Epiphany Two (2019)

(Romans 12:6-16, St. Mark 1:1-11)

“The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God…”

I have to admit that my favorite Gospel account is St. Mark’s.

While I appreciate the extra details provided by St. Matthew and St. Luke, and the theology St. John teaches, St. Mark is still my favorite.

When anyone asks me “Where should I begin reading the Bible?” I always say “Start with St. Mark!”

His account begins: “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  It’s like St. Mark is saying to us “You want to know about Jesus? Well, here you go!”

His account concludes (16:20) “And they went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.” I imagine St. Mark saying here “I’ve told you who Jesus is, now here is what you are to do with what you know.”

These two verses summarize Christianity; the Christian faith and life.

It begins with Jesus, who He is as the Son of God and the Good News He preached. It continues with us, our Commission to go forth with the Holy Spirit at our side to make the Gospel known everywhere.

Jesus’ ministry began at His Baptism.

In v. 9 of the Gospel we are told “And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan.

If the Lesson would have continued to verse 14 we would have heard that after His baptism “Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, And saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.”

His ministry had officially begun.

Our ministry began at baptism too.

Since we were baptized as infants we were not aware of this right away, but when parents and the Church do their duty we come to know this at a very young age. If they don’t do their duty, well then we know this now.

Galatians 3:27 states “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

In putting on Christ we become ministers of Christ, members of the priesthood of believers as we have learned about previously.

As ministers of Christ, the Great Commission is our commission.

We are to take the Gospel, the Good News, everywhere.

How we do this differs. The places we go, our callings and our abilities differ. As St. Paul states it in the Epistle, our gifts differ according the grace given to us by the Holy Ghost. Or as he states it in 1 Corinthians 12:4Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.

Though we have different forms of ministry, because we are of the same Body with the same indwelling Spirit, our purpose is the same: to bring the Good News everywhere we go.

If we think about it, since the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, then everywhere we go, Christ goes there too.

When we are at home we bring the presence of Christ into our home.

When we are at work, we bring the presence of Christ to our work place.

When we are in the grocery store, or the movie theater or the restaurant having dinner, we bring the presence of Christ to that place.

Without us even saying or doing anything, our being present in a place brings the presence of Christ to that place.

This is why St. Paul is so strong in his exhortation in the Epistle that we “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good.”

It is a deception of the devil to think we can live two lives; one Christian and one worldly, when everywhere we go, in everything we do and with everything we see or say, Christ is with us!

In St. Matthew 6:24 Jesus says “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

The word mammon in Greek is mam-mon-as. Though it can mean money, its primary meaning is confidence. Jesus is saying we cannot serve God and our self. We cannot put confidence in Him and in our self.

In St. Matthew 16:24 Jesus says “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”

Or, as I heard recently in a teaching “If you love God on your own terms, you really just love yourself.

Having put on Christ in Holy Baptism, Romans 8:35 states nothing can separate us from Him!

We can ignore His presence within us and even try to run away from Him, but we can never separate ourselves from Him. Psalm 139:7 states “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence?”

The presence of His Spirit, the indelible mark the sacrament of Holy Baptism infuses on our soul, remains. It may be buried under sin. It may be a small ember burning alone in our soul, but it is always present.

We are the children of God in Christ Jesus!

Therefore, as Romans 12:1 exhorts, we are to “…present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God…”

In Greek there are two words which are used for our one English word “body.” There is sarx, which means flesh; our skin, muscles, bones, etc. And there is soma, which means life.

In Romans 12:1, St. Paul uses soma. He is saying we are to present our lives as living sacrifices. He states this is our “reasonable service.” In other words, what is expected of all.

As we present our lives, they will be filled with greater joy than we can imagine. As Jesus teaches in St. Matthew 10:39He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.

That choice is ours.

As St. Mark so concisely declares, the Christian faith is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And the Christian life is consciously, actively bringing the presence of Christ everywhere we go.

May we grasp this declaration, and faithfully present our lives to God as holy and acceptable living sacrifices.  Amen.

 

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.

 

  Christmas (2018)

(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. 28-30Take 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 24:35Heaven 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)

(Philippians 3:17-21)

“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 2:14For 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.

 

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