Trinity Sixteen (2018)
(Ephesians 3:13-21, St. Luke 7:11-17)
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
Whether we realize it or not. Whether we are willing to acknowledge it or not. We are in the midst of a war. A spiritual war. A war for souls.
It is a war for own soul. It is a war for the souls of our children and grandchildren. It is a war for the souls of our friends and neighbors. It is a war for the soul of the Church herself!
This war has two fronts. The first front is the war within ourselves; the war between our flesh and our spirit. We learned about this front two Sunday’s ago.
The second front is the war Satan is waging against the Church and for the souls of all men.
In Revelation 13:7 we are told that between Christ’s Ascension and His return, Satan is given the opportunity “…to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.”
Being that we are in a war, a war we cannot escape for it surrounds us and takes place within us, we must fight. Fighting takes weapons.
What weapons are we to use to fight this war?
They are not earthly power. They are not guns, politics or money.
This past Monday we read in Morning Prayer (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;”
Though this war manifests itself in the flesh, in society, in governments and institutions, in the Church even, ultimately the war is spiritual. And because the warfare is spiritual, the weapons we must use to fight it must be spiritual too. Spiritual weapons for a spiritual war. Weapons given to us by God.
St. Paul lists the weapons we are to use in Ephesians 6:10-18.
In verses 10-12 he writes “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
After telling us who our enemies are, St. Paul then lists the weapons we are to use to fight against them: truth, righteousness, the gospel of peace, faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit; the Word of God.
Each of these is a powerful, spiritual weapon. We need to learn how to use them properly and then wield them bravely.
There is though one other weapon (a very powerful weapon) St. Paul lists in that passage. It is a weapon we can wield every day, at any time day or night. That weapon is prayer.
In Ephesians 6:18 he states “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”
Throughout Scripture we learn just how powerful prayer is.
Here are two well known examples:
In Gethsemane, on the night of His passion, St. Matthew 26:39 states Jesus “…fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.”
All of Satan’s power was unleashed upon Jesus. The only way His human nature and fleshly body could withstand that attack was by prayer.
Here is another.
St. Peter had been put in prison by Herod. He had just martyred St. James and St. Peter would be next.
Acts 12:5 tells us “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing [by] the church unto God for him.”
We know what happened next… St. Peter was freed by an angel! The prayers of the Church delivered him from Herod’s treachery.
Two instances of the very powerful, spiritual weapon of prayer.
Jesus wielded it for Himself, and the Church wielded it for St. Peter.
Both were answered, and Satan, working through the evil of man, was defeated.
Prayer is one of the most powerful weapons Jesus has given us.
But we must know how to wield it and then wield it properly.
We must pray for the right things.
1 John 5:14 states “And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us:”
So then what sort of things are we to pray for?
In the Epistle St. Paul teaches us four important things to pray for:
- For our spirits to be strengthened by the Holy Spirit.
- That Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith.
- That we would comprehend how broad, how deep, how long and how high Christ’s love for us is.
- That we might be filled with all the fullness of God.
This prayer is both one St. Paul prayed for the Ephesians and a model for prayer that we should use today.
We are to pray it for ourselves, for all whom we love, and for the Church.
As we do, as we wield this spiritual weapon bravely, we will wield it powerfully and properly.
On paper (or in hearing it) this all seems pretty simple. And it is.
But we have to do it! We, as Jesus did, must fall on our face and pray this for our self. We, as the Christians in Jerusalem did for St. Peter, must pray without ceasing for those whom we love and for the Church.
Brethren, if we are to have victory in this two front war we need to pray!
We must learn how if need be. The stakes are too high not to.
Jesus teaches us how; in the Lord’s Prayer and by His example recorded in the Gospels.
The Apostles teach us by example in Acts and throughout the Epistles.
What we must do is learn, know and follow those examples and become men and women of prayer.
Prayer is a very powerful, spiritual weapon; one of the most powerful weapons God has given to us.
We need to wield it by faith in Jesus and in accord with Scripture.
It is our best hope for winning the very real war for souls. Amen.
Trinity Fifteen (2018)
(Galatians 6:11-18, St. Matthew 6:24-34)
“But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
What are we glorying in for salvation?
The word “glory” here means “boast;” what we have confidence in.
St. Paul is saying “But God forbid that I should boast in anything for salvation, except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
What are we boasting in?
As we are starting to learn in our Thursday study of this epistle, some of the Galatians were boasting in their Judaism.
They were boasting in the fact they were sons and daughters of Abraham.
They were boasting (at least the males) that they were circumcised.
They were boasting they continued to keep the Temple sacrifices.
They were boasting in their observance of the ceremonial Law.
St. Paul tells them directly they are wrong in doing this! Very wrong!
He had been a Jew of all Jews, and found that it could not save him.
In Galatians 1:13, 14 he had told them “For ye have heard of my [manner of life] in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I… profited… above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
This prompted him to go on to say (in Galatians 3:1) “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” In other words, who has led you astray?
That was the Galatians. What about us? What are we boasting in?
That we have been baptized?
That we’ve been confirmed?
That we go to Sunday mass, at least most of the time, and of course on Christmas and Easter?
That we are “good people” who do not break the Ten Commandments?
That we are pious Catholics?
If we are going to boast in anything, then like the Galatians we must boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Any other boasting than this is futile; deadly even.
We cannot fall into the trap that God saves people outside of the cross; outside of faith in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We cannot think we will be saved because we are Anglican Catholics.
We cannot think some will be saved because they are “spiritual.”
Both are lies from Satan!
St. Paul warned the Galatians about falling into the trap of believing that “another gospel,” a false gospel, a cross-less gospel can save them.
The Galatians’ false gospel was mixing Judaism into Christianity.
Today the false gospel has two forms: “I can be saved by being spiritual” false gospel and the “I can be saved by being religious” false gospel.
The former believes Jesus was a great teacher whose death was tragic, but not the means of salvation.
The latter believes salvation can be had by the mere practice of religion.
Both of these false gospels essentially believe the same thing…”I don’t need the cross to be saved.”
Both are deadly to the soul.
St. Paul describes all false gospels well in 1 Timothy 3:5: They “[Have] a form of godliness, but [deny] the power thereof:”
To which the Apostle adds: “from such turn away.”
We must turn away from any and all forms of false gospels!
We must never have confidence that anything is saving us except faith, given to us by grace, in the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the cross alone can we glory!
This morning’s Gospel lesson begins with these words from Jesus “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other.”
In St. James 1:8 we are told “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.”
In 1 Kings 18:21 Elijah asked the people of Israel “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow Him: but if Baal (a false god, a false gospel), then follow him.”
Each of these exhortations applies here.
We, each of us, must decide.
Are we going to rely solely upon the cross; upon faith in Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried, and risen again, for our salvation?
Or, are we going to rely on some other gospel? A false gospel?
The choice is truly ours.
We have been given the grace to make the right choice.
But we have also been given free will to make another choice.
We must choose wisely. Our eternal destiny is at stake.
If, as I believe each of us do and will, glory only in the cross of Christ for our salvation, then we must understand something very specific.
Glorying in the cross means having the world crucified unto us, and us unto the world. In other words, we must die to the ways of the world and live unto Jesus Christ; the Way, the Truth and the Life…exclusively!
In Galatians 2:20 St. Paul states “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”
If we are to glory in the cross, then we must become crucified with Christ.
If we are to glory in the cross we must be dying to ourselves and to the world, and living for Christ and the building up of His Church.
There can only be one Master, one mind, one opinion!
At times we will falter, yes. But we can never give up or give in.
We must, by grace (always by grace) strive to live “in Christ.”
Only then do we have the assurance of salvation.
As I conclude, I ask us each again: What are we glorying in for salvation?
God forbid that it is anything other than the cross; other than the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ! Amen.
Trinity Fourteen (2018)
“And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.”
Within the life of a Christian there is a dichotomy of natures.
The first nature is the old nature.
This is the nature we inherit from Adam; the nature we are born with from our mother’s womb.
In the Epistle St. Paul calls this nature “the flesh.”
The second nature is the new nature.
This is the nature we inherit from Christ; the nature we are born again into when we pass through the waters of Holy Baptism.
In the Epistle St. Paul calls this nature “the Spirit.”
These two natures co-exist side by side within each Christian. But, while they co-exist, they do not co-operate. In fact quite the opposite is true.
From the moment God regenerates us by His Holy Spirit in Baptism, these two natures war against one another to gain control over our lives.
In the Epistle St. Paul describes this ongoing war after this manner:
“For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would.”
This is quite a quandary we find ourselves in, isn’t it? We are in the midst of a spiritual war, the outcome of which will determine our eternal destiny.
It is a war we cannot ignore. No Christian can escape it.
In fact, if we do not sense this war going on within us, we should be greatly concerned! It could mean the flesh is winning, dulling our senses to sin and leading us to fall out of the state of grace.
If then we cannot escape this spiritual war, how are we to fight it?
How can our spirit gain consistent victory over our flesh within our lives?
In the Epistle St. Paul provides the answer: “I say then, walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”
Every day of our life we must, by an act of our will aided by sacramental grace, live in the way the Holy Spirit of God, according to the Holy Word of God, has called us to live. We must “…walk in the Spirit.”
This is more easily said than done.
Without making any excuses, when it comes to this spiritual war we may be living in the most difficult era in the Church’s history.
Not that there is something new under the sun in the way of sin, for the sins the Epistle lists have been around for many years.
In every era of the Church’s history God’s people have had to face the soul threatening challenges of these sins, and by His grace overcome them.
There is though one important difference in this era compared to others.
Because of technological advances (many of which are very beneficial) there is an ever-increasing number of ways God’s people are attacked and the flesh enticed.
In times past people had to go to the “shady side of town” to see what we can see in our own living rooms!
With cable and satellite television, and the internet in every home and on phones, the “shady side of town” can now come to us.
Our Lord taught that the eyes are the windows of the soul.
What we view with our eyes, we begin to desire with our hearts.
Satan knows this too, and so every day we are bombarded with his “pro-sin” message, and we don’t even have to leave our homes to see it!
Adding to what the world throws at us is the increase in churches that compromise with the ways of the world.
Many of them teach and / or believe that no transformation of life is necessary in order to be “a Christian.”
This sort of “come as you are, remain as you are” religion is not Christian!
True, God graciously receives us as we are. His forgiveness is real!
But once received, He then demands we use that grace to change from what we have been in the flesh to who He calls us in Christ to be in the Spirit.
We are to “…go and sin no more.”, as Jesus told the woman caught in adultery in St. John 8.
The Church’s duty is to utilize the power of the Spirit, working in her by the Word and the Sacraments, to teach people to walk in the Spirit and defeat the flesh!
As you can see then, in this war between the spirit and the flesh it very much seems as if the proverbial deck is stacked against us.
The world is on the side of the flesh, a number of churches are now on the side of the flesh, and our own flesh is on the side of the flesh!
And yet while this is true, the strategy for victory remains the same: “…walk in the Spirit!”
The powerful grace of God, won for the Church by our Lord on the Cross, working within our spirits, is far greater than power of the flesh!
But…but, we must walk in it.
We must live in the state of grace God has birthed us into by Baptism.
We must take hold of the grace God gives us in the Eucharist and through prayer, and put it to use.
We must seek wisdom and knowledge through the study of Scripture and Catholic tradition, to know who Christ is, who we are in Him, and the means He has provided for us to defeat the flesh.
And, we must not do those things that entice our flesh to sin (and we all know what they are for us individually).
As we walk, as we live, this way, we will build up the fruit of the Spirit within our spirits and defeat the works of the flesh.
My brethren, plainly put walking in the Spirit means two things:
First, it means taking hold of grace and doing that which his godly.
Second, it means taking hold of grace and not doing what is sinful.
In Christ you and I can do this.
It will not be easy. We will fail at times. Battles will be lost.
And yet in Christ victory in this spiritual war is ours!
We can mortify the flesh with its affections and lusts, and walk in the Spirit unto everlasting life. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Trinity Thirteen (2018)
(Galatians 3:16-22, St. Luke 10:23-37)
“Then said Jesus unto Him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
The most important part of our Christian witness, especially to unbelievers and the world in general, are our moral decisions and behavior.
The world hears the verbal testimony of many Christians but then sees many of them (maybe us?) live in a manner that is inconsistent with, or that contradicts that verbal testimony.
Like the lawyer in this morning’s Gospel Lesson who wanted to “justify himself” we (Christians generally) often do what is necessary to appear religious and make ourselves feel like true Christians.
But then we don’t live by the Faith and practice the morals Scripture teaches are necessary to true Christianity; Faith and morality that transform worldly thinking and living into Christian thinking and living.
Religion is part of life, but Christ is not the substance of life.
There is a lot of talk, but little change in thought, word or deed.
In the 17th century Bishop Jeremy Taylor taught: “He that will be pleased in his prayers, must make his prayers his rule (the way he lives): all our duty is there set down, because in all our duty we beg the divine assistance; and remember, that you are bound to do all those duties, for the doing of which you have prayed for the divine assistance.”
In other words, “Lex orandi, lex credendi”, “the law of prayer, is the law of belief.” What we pray for and profess to believe is to mirror what we actually think, say and live. They cannot contradict one another.
If they do, we prove ourselves to be less than who we profess to be.
Like the lawyer in the Gospel, we merely seek to justify ourselves.
So then how do we accomplish being what we believe and profess to be?
We must submit ourselves wholly to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Throughout his Epistle to the Galatians, and also in his Epistle to the Romans St. Paul is most clear that we cannot be saved by keeping the Law; by being “a good person” as we often hear it said.
All who have tried have failed.
We fail for two reasons.
First, the Law was never intended to be the way man achieves righteousness and justification before God.
As the Epistle states, God justified Abraham by faith 430 years before He gave Moses the Law. So justification was never to come by the Law.
The purpose of the Law, as St. Paul so insightfully explains, is to be a “school master” that shows us how sin-filled we are.
In Galatians 3:24 St. Paul states “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.”
Once we understand this we are left with no other choice than to flee to Christ by grace and call upon Him by faith if we are to be saved.
The second reason we fail is that we have a sin nature.
While we may not want to visibly break the Ten Commandments; we don’t want to commit murder, adultery or theft, at least not in our deeds (physically, in our actions), we know sin is not only committed in deed.
It is also committed in word. It is also committed in thought.
By self-discipline, unaided by grace, we may be able to keep ourselves from breaking the Law in deed. But we are not able to keep ourselves from breaking it in thought, and likely not in word either.
To keep the Law in deed, in word and in thought we need grace, which is obtained by faith in Jesus Christ. In Christ, the Holy Ghost comes to dwell in us, enabling us to keep the Law, not by its letter, but by its spirit.
The seed promised to Abraham has come. That “seed” is Jesus Christ.
By His full obedience to the Law in thought, word and deed He has become the Mediator and Advocate for all who will call upon Him by faith.
As we submit ourselves to Jesus. As we make Him the object of our obedience, and strive by grace to be His disciples, we fulfill the Law.
If our objective is to please Jesus by living the way He calls His disciples to live, we will keep the Law without any concern for its letter.
Like the driver of a car who abides by the speed limit, not so he won’t be stopped by the police and issued a citation, but because he is focused on being a safe driver; a faithful disciple of Jesus obeys the Law not to avoid being punished by God in eternal hell, but because he or she is focused on pleasing their Master and gaining eternal life by and in Him
As we keep Christ, as we remain His faithful servants, we will find that we will also be keeping the Law; not by its letter, but by its spirit; by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and gives the “mind of Christ.”
Brethren, let us pray that we would be disciples of Jesus in thought, word and deed.
Not by striving to keep the letter of the Law, but because by grace through faith we strive to keep Christ, to obey His Word and seek to please Him.
Let us not be like the lawyer who wanted to merely justify himself. Instead, let us be true Christians, justified by our faith and good works in Christ.
In so doing our witness will be genuine, as we receive all the blessings that can be obtained by being found in Him. Amen.
Trinity Twelve (2018)
(St. Mark 7:31-37, 2 Corinthians 3:4-9)
“…He hath done all things well:”
From our perspective, over two-thousand years after the fact, the statement I’ve quoted from this morning’s Gospel may sound very obvious.
Already knowing who Jesus is and what He did throughout His earthly ministry, and above all His sacrificial passion and death, the statement “He has done all things well;” sounds elementary.
We think “Well of course Jesus has done all things well; He is the Son of God, the Creator and Savior of the world.”
For us this is obvious, but for those who lived in Judea in the days of our Lord’s earthly ministry; who knew Jesus as a carpenter from Nazareth or a prophet from Galilee, it was not so obvious.
They did not know what we do about who Jesus is, and so for them having to declare “He has done all things well” makes sense.
In our day there are still many people who do not know who Jesus is.
Like the Jews of Jesus’ day they know of Him, something about Him, but they do not know Him. Certainly not the way you and I know Him.
Many of these people were raised in a form of the Christian religion, just as most of the Jews in Jesus’ day were raised in a form of Judaism.
Often their understanding and image of Jesus is faulty. They may have been raised in a church that teaches a false gospel with a false Christ.
Or maybe other Christians in their lives, from when they were young or today, have been inconsistent or poor witnesses for Christ, leaving them with a false impression of who He really is.
Sure, some are looking for excuses to not know and believe in Jesus, but others really have been turned away from Christ by churches and Christians.
This being so, as faithful Christians we have to do what we can to correct this situation.
Our lives need to be thoroughly Christian, and we need to present a witness for Christ that is both true and consistent.
This is what it really means to be an evangelical Christian.
The term “evangelical Christian” is really redundant.
All Christians are to be evangelical.
Each of us should live a consistent, truth-filled Christian life.
As St. Paul states in today’s Epistle, God has made us “able ministers of the new testament.”
All who have been baptized, and more so all who have been confirmed and regularly feed upon our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, have all they need to be evangelical.
We are capable of living an “evangelical life”; a life that consistently witnesses the truth of Jesus Christ.
Each of us is spiritually equipped to be an able minister of the Good News.
The witness each of gives (the way we witness) differs, but the intent is the same: to let the Spirit use us to bring Christ to men and men to Christ.
Being an “evangelical Christian” should be who we are.
The word “well” in Greek is kalos. It means excellent.
Jesus has done all things excellently.
His life was excellent.
His teachings and miracles were excellent.
His sacrificial passion and death is the excellent (the perfect and the complete) means by which the sins of the world have been taken away.
What about us? Are we doing all things well?
Are we living an excellent Christian life?
If not, then why not? What is holding us back?
The two things that most often hold us back from excellence are: insufficient knowledge of Christ and the practice of sin.
Insufficient knowledge prevents us from knowing Christ, through His Word, well enough that to conform our lives to Him.
How well do we know Jesus ourselves?
There is no way we can be able ministers of the New Testament if our relationship with Christ is not personal, or we lack mature knowledge of His Word because we don’t read it daily and study it consistently.
The practice of sin is an even greater impediment to living an excellent Christian life.
The fact is we all commit acts of sin in our thoughts, words or deeds.
While we should not, and we don’t have to, we do. Our first nature is still so much a part of who we are that we will fall from time to time.
This isn’t something we should approve of or just accept, but it is something we need to be aware of so when it happens we will know to stop, confess, and repent (turn back the right way).
Falling into sin is much different though than practicing sin.
We will never be an excellent Christian if we allow the practice of sin (no matter the form) to take root in our souls and grow in our lives.
St. James reminds us “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” Such instability prevents us from becoming an excellent Christian.
So we need to take inventory of our lives on a regular basis.
We should do this daily, and certainly each week before we partake of Jesus’ Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
We then need to confess and turn from any sins we are committing often.
Throughout each day we need strive against sin; never accepting it.
And if we find ourselves caught in a cycle of sin, practicing it, we need to use the grace we’ve been given and fight against it with all our might.
If that is, we want to live an excellent Christian life.
Brethren, Jesus truly has done “all things well.”
He has done all things excellently.
We will never reach His level of excellence, and yet by grace we can strive towards real excellence; strive to grow in our knowledge of Christ and to end the practice of sin.
Let us then, again always by grace, strive to do all things God calls us to do well. Let us be excellent Christians; excellent in and for Christ.
In doing so we will be true and consistent witnesses for Christ and able ministers of the Gospel.
This is as greatly needed today as it was in Jesus’ day.
For there are still many who do not know Jesus the way we do. Amen.
Trinity Eleven 2018
(St. Luke 18:9-14, 1 Corinthians 15:1-11)
“Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received and wherein ye stand; By which ye are saved…”
Our church has its roots in the Anglican heritage, so an important part of our faith and worship is necessarily tied to the traditions of that heritage.
The liturgies we utilize, our emphasis on a Biblical use of the Sacraments, and the pious practices we are encouraged to participate in form an important part of our practice and witness of the Christian Faith.
This being so, and without devaluing them, it must be stated we are not to rely on, or believe that any of them, alone or together can give us salvation.
If the substance of our faith is our religious heritage or our religious practices we will be left dead in our sins; for no one has, or ever will be, justified by their religion alone.
The way by which we are saved is belief in the Gospel; the finished work of Christ on the Cross and His Resurrection from the dead!
In this morning’s Gospel our Lord tells of two men who went into the Temple in Jerusalem to pray.
The first was a “religious man,” a Pharisee, who thought his religious heritage would save him.
He thought: “I’m a son of Abraham, I have been circumcised and observe the Passover. As long as I continue to go to the Temple on the appointed days and keep the external demands of the Law I’ll be okay. I am justified.”
How wrong he was!
Jesus tells us it was the second man, a publican, “a sinner,” a man who did not trust his religious heritage or his own works, but rather trusted God’s grace and believed in His mercy; he is the one who whom God justified.
The testimony St. Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 15:1, 2 is in perfect accord with what Jesus teaches in the parable.
In essence St. Paul says: “I have preached the Gospel to you and you have received it and stand upon it by faith. And if you keep it in your memory; in your heart, soul, mind and strength, it will save you.”
By grace, the initial measure of which is given in Holy Baptism, we are lead to believe the Gospel and build a true and living faith.
By that true and living faith our salvation is made real and sure.
Since belief in the Gospel is the key to salvation it is very important for us to know exactly what it is, for today there are many false gospels out there.
In 1 Corinthians 15:3-9 St. Paul provides four of the essential points of the Gospel that we must be believe to be saved:
- That Christ died for my sins. (He is a personal Savior)
- That He was buried and rose again on the third day.
- That He was seen alive by credible, faithful witnesses.
- And that all of this is in accord with Sacred Scripture.
This is what we must believe, confess and keep continuously within their hearts (“in memory” as St. Paul states it) in order to be saved.
This is the means by which God accounts us righteous in Christ.
The traditions of our religion and the piety we practice, no matter how much they help frame and aid us in our understanding of the Faith (and they help a lot), can never alter the fact it is the Gospel, it is the finished work of Jesus Christ, that saves us!
The moment we begin to rely on our religious actions and piety to save us.
The moment those actions become means in themselves instead of, as they are meant to be, a means to an end.
That is the moment we become self-righteous and Christ’s righteousness is of no effect for us.
The whole work of salvation then from first to last is of God.
It is “from faith to faith…” as St. Paul writes in Romans 1:17.
Jesus has done the “works” of the Gospel, each of which is recorded in Sacred Scripture.
In Holy Baptism He infuses those works in our souls, giving us ears to hear and understand Scripture so we can believe and confess Christ by faith.
In Confirmation the Spirit seals those works upon us.
In the Eucharist those works are strengthened in us unto everlasting life.
These means are God’s instruments to place us, and keep us, in the state of grace and justification, but we must receive and cooperate with them by faith.
We can’t be like the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable thinking “I’m a Christian. I’ve been baptized and confirmed, I receive the Eucharist. As long as I go to church (at least most of the time) and keep the Ten Commandments (at least on the outside) I’ll be okay. I’m justified.”
That is a dangerously wrong way to think.
Yes, we should practice our religion, but we must first and foremost believe the Gospel; believe upon Christ by faith, to be saved.
Romans 3:26 states God sent His Son to declare He is just, and the justifier of all those who believe in Jesus.
My brethren, we are very blessed to be Anglican Catholics.
Our traditions are so rich.
Our liturgies are unsurpassed in their ability to worship God in spirit and truth, with decency and order, and in the beauty of holiness.
Our doctrine and use of the Sacraments are evangelical and Biblically sound.
But let one thing be and remain clearly understood.
All that is traditional and beautiful in the our church’s practices, and as good as they are and as much as we should revere them, they must forever be secondary and subject to the substance of the Gospel and the finished, saving work of Jesus as they are inerrantly declared in Sacred Scripture.
For it is by Christ, through belief in the Gospel of Christ by faith, we are saved. Amen.
(St. Luke 9:28-36, 2 Peter 1:13-18)
“For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Within our collective Christian experience it’s likely we’ve each had moments when we’ve felt the particular presence of God moving within our spirit in a manner that can only be described as being beyond the norm.
Those experiences may have been emotionally exhilarating, or they may have been a time of intense calm and peace.
Either way, some time in our lives we have likely known God’s presence in a way that was more powerful or intimate than usual.
As powerful or intimate as those moments were, I would think they still pale in comparison to what SS. Peter, James and John experienced when they saw Jesus transfigured.
In the Gospel we are told “…the fashion of (Jesus’) countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.”
Picture that for a moment.
Right before their very eyes the constitution of Jesus’ body changed, as His eternal, divine glory, showed through the veil of His human flesh.
As if that was not enough, Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus and talked with Him about His pending passion and death.
And if that was not enough, once Moses and Elijah had departed from view, the glory cloud, the shekinah as it is called in Hebrew, enveloped them and the apostles heard the Voice of the Father Himself call out from it “This is my beloved Son; hear Him!”
I think we have to admit that was one incredible experience!
One which we likely will not even approach having until the day we see the Lord face to face for ourselves.
And yet as tremendous an experience as it was, note that when
St. Peter recounts it for us in today’s Epistle he puts it into perspective.
He does not deny the event was awesome.
But then in v. 19 (the lesson ends at v. 18) he puts it into perspective when he states: “We also have a more-sure (a confirmed) word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed.”
St. Peter is in effect saying, “Yes, the experience I had when I saw the Lord transfigured before my eyes was real and awesome.
And yet there is something even more-sure upon which I rest my faith, and you should rest yours…The more-sure Word of Sacred Scripture!”
The written Word of God, as it has been preserved, interpreted, preached and taught by the Church Catholic throughout the ages is to be the foundation and substance of our faith, and the place where we and every generation is to turn to assuredly hear the very Voice of God.
The backbone of Anglican Catholicism is our emphasis on the primacy of Sacred Scripture in teaching the Faith.
While the extraordinary experiences God sprinkles within our lives are not to be rejected outright; for they often aid us in our faith, they must be tested by something more-sure than our emotions, by something more-sure than the experience itself.
They must be tested by the stable surety of Scripture.
In the 4th century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem wrote: “Let us assert of the Holy Spirit only what is written. Let us not busy ourselves about what is not written. The Holy Spirit has authored the Scriptures. He has spoken of himself all he wished, or all that we could grasp. Let us confine ourselves to what he has said, for it is reckless to do otherwise.”
God our Father, through the Holy Spirit, has given us the written Word to hear with surety the voice of the Incarnate Word, Jesus Christ; the One with whom He is well pleased and sent into the world to save us from our sins.
By this Word, by God’s Word, our faith must be confirmed.
While this is what God Himself, in His own Word, commands His people to do, we know that in our day many do not listen and obey.
In our day, maybe more than at any other time in Church’s history, experience and emotion are thought to be equal, if not a superior rule for faith and practice.
Many look to their subjective emotions, experiences and interpretations to find their own version of “truth” and use them to form what they believe.
In almost every other area of life we know that our emotions often deceive, and that our perspective on an experience changes over time, so much so that we would not want to make any important decision based upon them.
Yet many people determine their eternal destiny before God based upon their experiences and emotions instead of upon the stable, unchanging rock of the more sure Word.
They turn the process around, confirming the Word by their experiences instead of confirming their experiences by the Word.
We must be careful to not fall prey to anything like this for it can lead to error, apostasy or heresy.
Instead, our faith must be based and built upon the sure foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.
It must be based and built firmly upon the Word of God.
It would be wrong to just disregard what the apostles received in their vision on the mountain, or those experiences God has given us in our lives.
God has a purpose for those moments and we should not “quench the Spirit” when they come.
But St. Peter teaches us that Christians are to read, hear and believe Sacred Scripture over and above every spiritual experience we have.
We must be careful to not follow “cunningly devised fables.”
Instead we are to do as St. Paul exhorts us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.”
The standard for proving all things of and from God is the Scriptures.
When we obey this inspired command, we can be sure we will be hearing God’s voice, and in doing so confirm that our faith is genuine and acceptable to Him.
My brethren, God has given us His more sure Word.
Let us listen to the Father’s command to hear and obey it over all things.
For in doing so we will know we are truly following the Saviour in the way of salvation He has made for us. Amen.
Trinity Nine (2018)
(St. Luke 15:11-32)
“Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son:”
Who is the “Prodigal Son?”
I am. And so are you.
At some time in life, every baptized person is a prodigal son / a prodigal daughter. Let me explain…
Most often this parable is used to teach about a “big falling away,” the kind of sin that needs a major conversion; a crisis conversion, to rectify.
That application is the most plain, but there are others.
Unlike some other parables, Jesus does not give an explanation for this one, and therefore we have latitude in understanding and applying it to our lives.
Let us then see how the lesson of this parable applies more broadly.
Like the Prodigal Son in Jesus’ parable each of us has sinned.
We may not have wasted all of our substance, but we’ve wasted some of it.
That’s what sin is. It’s wasting the grace the Father gives us in Christ.
St. Ambrose said our “substance” is the image of God that dwells within.
In Romans 3:23 we are reminded “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
1 John 1:8 states “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
And in 1 Peter 2:25 we are told “For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”
Because each of us sins, each of us is a prodigal.
Each of us has turned away, and turns away.
Let us take a moment to reflect upon what we have thought, said and done with our lives in the past 24 hours.
And then let us compare this to what we know Scripture teaches us we should have thought, said and done with our lives over that period.
Let’s take that moment now……
This is something we should do every day of our lives when we pray.
Take time to examine our conscience, asking the Holy Spirit to show us the ways we have sinned in thought, word or deed.
We should also do this before mass. We should get here early enough to sit quietly in the pew and prepare ourselves to receive the Holy Eucharist.
This way when we say the General Confession during mass we will be well aware of what we are confessing.
Now, having taken that moment to compare what we have done to what we know we should have done, how are we not prodigals?
St. James 4:17 states “Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.”
If we know (and we do) the way we are to live in order to be faithful Christians, but don’t do it, then we too have sinned against heaven and in God’s sight.
And if we sin against heaven and in God’s sight then the evidence seems pretty clear. I am a prodigal son!
Brethren, peace be with you. Yes, we sin daily in thought, word and deed and therefore are, in a true sense, prodigals.
But God has provided the means for our forgiveness and restoration.
1 John 1:9 states “If we confess our sins, (God) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
We have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, and in Him we have the forgiveness of our sins!
We need to do like the Prodigal Son in the parable did.
We need to look into our soul and “come to ourselves.”
And then we, again like the Prodigal Son, must go to our Father and tell Him we have sinned.
We need to acknowledge what we know to be true.
We need to “…humbly confess our sins unto Almighty God” (BCP pg. 6)
We must do this daily.
In fact we should do it more often than that!
As soon as we recognize that what we are thinking, saying or doing is not in accord with God’s Word, we need to do three things:
First, stop! Immediately. Not “later” or “next time.”
Stop thinking, saying or doing whatever the sinful thing is!
It’s the Spirit who shows us we are sinning, so we know we can.
Second, we need to arise and turn from that sin.
We need to walk away from the situation, leave the room or the place, turn off the show or the song, end the conversation, begin a new thought.
Third, we need to go to our Father.
We need to tell Him what we have done and ask Him to forgive us.
We should do this as soon as we can; immediately if we can.
When we do these three sincerely, and with urgency and conviction; we have absolute surety the Father hears us and forgives us.
And if we don’t catch ourselves, or do not stop ourselves in the moment, then we need to be sure to examine ourselves daily, go to our Father in prayer, and make a thorough confession to Him.
We don’t have to have a “big falling away” to be prodigals.
Daily sin can have the same effect.
We don’t have to remain prodigals either.
God has given us the grace to be faithful.
In Holy Baptism, in the Holy Eucharist and in prayer grace is given.
We must take hold of it and use it.
Use it to examine ourselves before God in accord with His Word.
Use it to go to the Father and confess.
Use it to accept His forgiveness and strive to sin-less in the future.
Like the father in the parable, our Father in heaven is willing to; He wants to, show us compassion. He wants to forgive us!
He wants to restore us to the full privileges we have in Christ.
But He won’t make us.
He leaves that decision up to us. Amen.
Trinity Seven (2018)
(St. Mark 8:1-9)
“In those days the multitude being very great, and having nothing to eat, Jesus called his disciples unto him, and saith unto them, I have compassion on the multitude…”
One of the biggest issue we face in the ACC (and in Continuing Anglicanism) is how to show and share the faith and worship God has formed in us to the culture that surrounds us; both Christian and secular.
How do we “get the word out” that we are Biblical and evangelical; along with being Sacramental and Traditional, to those who may desire to be in a church that contains them?
There is no magic formula to be sure.
Unlike many churches today, we do not take license and alter doctrine or change worship in order to attract (if not compromise with) the zeitgeist, the “spirit of the age.” No church should take such license!
St. Jude writes (I) “…exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
In 2 Thessalonians 2:15 St. Paul writes “Therefore, brethren stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
God does not give any church the right to alter doctrine! And churches should be very judicious when they consider changing worship; the basic form of which has been handed down within the Church from her first days.
Why? Through correct doctrine we know the revealed truth about God and can be saved. And the purpose of earthly worship services is to connect the faithful here with the perpetual worship that is occurring in heaven.
We have a good idea of what that perpetual worship “looks like.”
In Isaiah 6:1-7 and Revelation chapter 4 (eleven verses) we are shown a “snap shot” form of what worship in heaven is like.
Though from an earthly, historical perspective there are about nine hundred years separating the time Isaiah observed the perpetual worship in heaven until St. John observed it; the accounts they give are remarkably the same!
It is reverent. It is majestic. It is holy. Our Prayer Book liturgy is ordered in such a way as to lead the worshipers here on earth to join with the perpetual worship activity in heaven. It is reverent. It can be majestic. It is holy.
The celebration of the Holy Eucharist is central to making this connection.
1 Corinthians 10:16 states “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?” We are joined to Christ by the Eucharist.
Our Lord Jesus commanded we “do this” when we gather to worship Him.
In 1 Corinthians 11:17-34 St. Paul gives some rather detailed instructions on what the Corinthian’s were to do when they gathered for worship.
In v. 23 he states “For I have received of the Lord that which I also delivered unto you…”
Jesus personally revealed to St. Paul how the Church is to worship. Jesus reveals Himself to us when we obey Him.
He has instructed us on how our worship here on earth can assuredly connect us with the perpetual worship in heaven.
And since Isaiah and Revelation teach us the worship in heaven does not change, then how can worship services on earth be so malleable?
It should not!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
If the Object of our worship is God in Christ, and He does not change, and the Biblical accounts of the form of worship occurring in heaven do not change, then churches cannot rightly change it as casually as many do.
A few years ago I read an article from the New York Times about the challenges the Roman Catholic Church faced if the Pope was to try and turn that church back in the direction of Biblical and Traditional orthodoxy.
Now we are not Roman Catholics, but we face some of the same challenges since we are both historic branches of the Church.
The author of the article wrote “Our age is still religious; it’s just made its peace with human appetites and all the varied ways they intertwine.” The religious people of our age “…just dismiss the idea that the divine could possibly want anything for us except for what we already want for ourselves.”
In other words, the religion many people seek today is one that will make them feel at peace in their sins, instead of convicting them by the Holy Ghost that true peace only comes from confronting and renouncing sin, and embracing of the way of the Cross.
The worship many people seek today are forms that allow them to sit back and be entertained and / or that will play to their emotions, not a form that causes them to be involved (to assist) in body, mind and spirit.
The writer concludes: “Religion without renunciation has obvious appeal. But its cultural consequences are not self evidently positive.”
Not only are the cultural consequences to religion without renunciation not self evidently positive; the eternal consequences will be devastating!
If we try to make peace with the world by compromising theology (who God is as He is revealed in Sacred Scripture), doctrine (how we are to live in light of who God is, as Scripture and Tradition detail for us), or worship (how we offer praise and thanks to God for salvation through Jesus Christ) we will end up participating in a religion which is unrecognizable in heaven.
Unrecognizable to God.
A religion that is a means in itself, not a means to an eternal end.
A religious social-club or entertainment center.
Those kinds of religion may satisfy human nature and its emotions, but they are not capable of transforming men from sinners into saints, which is the primary purpose of Christianity.
So here is where we are at.
We need to soberly face the fact that maintaining the doctrine, worship and faith practices which have been handed down to us from the days of the Apostles are not popular in our culture.
We should not expect them to be.
While many Western people are still “religious,” their religion is not based on “…the faith which was once for all delivered.”
This then leaves us with a choice.
We can, as a many churches have, make compromises (some small and some large) to doctrine and worship, hoping to not alter them to the point where they become ineffective for salvation.
Or, we can “Stay the Course” and remain faithful to what has been handed down to us, which we know is very effective for salvation.
In our church, and throughout the Continuum, the choice is clear…
“Stay the course!” Remain faithful!
Scripture and over 2,000 years of the Church’s undivided Tradition have our back. Almost 470 years of Anglican tradition has our back.
May God grant us His continued grace to remain faithful.
And may He lead others to recognize the value of our Biblical, Sacramental, Liturgical, Evangelical and Anglican faith and practice. Amen.