Sermons

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.

 

Trinity Twenty-One (2018)

(Ephesians 6:10-20, St. John 4:46-54)

“Grant, we beseech thee, merciful Lord, to thy faithful people pardon and peace, that they may be cleansed from all their sins, and serve thee with a quiet mind;…”

As people we pursue a lot of things.

We pursue a good education.  We pursue a good job.  We pursue a spouse.  We pursue having and raising children.  As we work we pursue retirement, and then once we are retired we pursue doing as many of the things possible we couldn’t not do while we were working and raising children.

None of these pursuits in and of themselves are bad.  They are not sinful.

God wants His people to pursue good things. He is particularly pleased when those pursuits bring Him glory through His Son, Jesus.

As good as pursuing godly things is there is one pursuit we should have as a priority. That pursuit is true peace.

True peace is peace with God. It is the peace that passes all understanding.

But in order for us to have true peace, we need to know and have experienced in our lives and spirits being pardoned from our sins.

Having peace and being pardoned of sin by God are intrinsically linked.

There is no peace without pardon, and the result of pardon is peace.

If we are pursuing other things in our lives, even good things, but are living with unconfessed sin there is no way we will have peace.

At least not the type of peace today’s Collect petitions God for.

Isaiah 26:3 states “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on thee,..”

When we have unconfessed sin we will not have “perfect peace.”  Instead we will “hide” from God. Our minds cannot be stayed on Him when we are hiding. Our prayer life and study time break down, cutting off grace.

Think of a child who knows he or she has disobeyed their parents.

Perhaps they were playing in the house and broke a household item of importance or value.

The child knew they should not have been playing in the house and that their disobedience resulted in the item being broken.

The child will likely hide from his parents.  They might stay in their room or away from the house as long as they can. Some “run away” from home.

As children of our Father in heaven, we do the same with sin.

We know we should not have committed it and as a direct result we’ve broken one of His valued commandments or an important precept of His Word. This causes a sense of guilt and a loss of peace.

Initially the guilt and loss of peace are “good.” They are signs we are in the state of grace and the Holy Ghost is working within us and convicting us.

But this sense of guilt and loss of peace must be dealt with. It needs to be cleansed and healed. When it is not it may cause us to hide from God.

We may stay away from His house (from church and mass). We may stop praying. We may “run away” from Him for a period. Maybe worst of all, we may just go on with life as if that sin didn’t happen.

All of these are wrong.

They do nothing to resolve the sin, and actually compound it.

Unresolved sin causes us to lose our sense of peace with God.

It separates us from Him.

Obviously the correct response and action to take when we become aware we have fallen into sin is to seek pardon and cleansing from God for it.

1 John 1:9 tells us “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

  God’s forgiveness and cleansing restores our peace.

When we were children and we finally went to our parents and admitted we broke a household item, a large burden, like “the weight of the world” was lifted from us. Even if we were punished for our disobedience.

The same is true when we confess our sins.

Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us to “…lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us,…”

St. James 5:16 exhorts “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

When we confess our sins, we lay aside this weight as we receive pardon for our sins and our peace is restored.

In most cases we can have the weight of sin lifted from us through a sincere confession in our private prayers and in the General Confession during Mass.

In our private prayers we ask the Lord directly for His pardon and absolution.  In the Mass the priest, acting as Christ’s representative (persona Christi) pronounces the absolution on His behalf.

But when the sin is a grave matter, or our conscience cannot be calmed in our prayers or at mass, then we should receive the Sacrament of Penance.

By this Sacrament we go to the Father through His priest, receive counsel to calm our conscience, and most importantly are assured of His forgiveness.  The final words the priest says to the penitent are “Go in peace, the Lord hath put away all thy sins.”

In 2 Corinthians 2:10 St. Paul writes “…for if I forgave any thing, to whom I forgave it, for your sakes [I forgave it] in the person of Christ:” St. Paul, as an apostle, pronounced absolution in the Name and Person of Christ.

Bishops in valid Apostolic Succession and those priests ordained by them do this same thing.

We do not have the ability to forgive sins, only God has the ability to forgive, but through the charism of ordination given by the laying on of hands we, in the name of and in the person of Christ, have the authority to pronounce absolution to those who are penitent and confess their sins.

When the laity partakes in the ministry of reconciliation consistently, and the clergy rightly and duly administer absolution faithfully, it is a means by which perfect peace can be restored.   

The Collect states the purpose for God’s faithful people to seek pardon and peace is so we can serve Him with a quiet mind.

Philippians 2:5 states “Let this mind be in you, which was in Christ Jesus.”

  Romans 10:2 states “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.”

If our minds are conformed to the world and not to Christ, then we will not be able to serve God with a quiet mind.

The ability to serve God begins with knowing we have been cleansed of our sins by the perfect shed blood of our Lord Jesus on the cross.

With the weight of sin lifted off our shoulders, and peace between ourselves and God flowing through our hearts and minds, we become freed to serve Him and pursue what is godly, as we have been created to do.

May we seek the pardon and peace of our merciful Lord, and use the quiet mind that comes from it to faithfully serve Him unto all good works.  Amen.

Trinity Twenty (2018)

(St. Matthew 22:1-14, Ephesians 5:15-21)

“Jesus said, The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son…”

It is such a privilege to be here at mass this morning, isn’t it?

As we heard in the Gospel lesson, not everyone is invited to come.

When the servants of the king went out into the highways to invite wedding guests, the man who came into the banquet hall without a wedding garment on was cast out!

That wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ.

We must be clothed with Christ’s righteousness if we are to dine at the wedding supper of the Lamb.

How are we clothed in Christ’s righteousness?  By Holy Baptism and faith.

Galatians 3:27 states “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.”

In Baptism we are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, and we must have His righteousness upon us to be able to dine here at His Holy Table.

In our church’s practice we require Confirmation before receiving the Eucharist. I understand the reasons, but think we (G-4) should consider the practices of the Orthodox and Roman churches, both which practice forms of paedocommunion, and adjust accordingly. That’s just my opinion.

Each of us here this morning has been clothed in Christ’s righteousness and has confirmed it with a declaration of personal faith in Confirmation.

This being so, we have a standing invitation from the Father to attend the wedding supper of His Son, our Lord Jesus, at least every Sunday.

What do we do with that invitation?

As we are told in the Gospel lesson, a number of those invited “made light of it.” They ignored the gracious invitation they had been given and went about their own business. They thought their invitation was “No big deal…”

Many today think this same way.

I think this is primarily because, consciously or subconsciously, they think “It’s just common bread and a common cup.” It’s a mere memorial, or a mere “spiritual” (meaning non-real) presence. Jesus isn’t “Really Present.

This is unbiblical!

Jesus, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, the One who spoke the world into being, the Word made flesh who dwelt among us, spoke the words “This is my Body…This is my Blood.”

Did His words not effect what they declared?  Of course they did!

In St. John 6:55 Jesus says “For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.”

The Body and Blood of Jesus become Really Present, in a way not explained by God in Sacred Scripture and best left alone by us, when the very words Jesus spoke are said by a bishop or priest over the bread and wine set apart by His command.

And you and I are invited to dine with Him, to dine upon Him; His Body, His Blood made Really Present, each time a mass is celebrated.

What do we think about God’s invitation? How important is it to us?

Do we “make light of it?” Do we think “No big deal?”

Do we think, “There will be another mass next Sunday, it can wait, I’ll go then. This Sunday I’ve got fill in the blank to do, and right now it’s more important.”

Now of course there are times when we truly cannot get to mass.

We may be sick. We may become a shut in. We may have to work. We may be out of town and there isn’t a proper parish nearby.

There can be other circumstances too when we are prevented from being at mass. God understands this.

It’s those “other times”, those “other reasons” that can be a problem.

A number of years ago I heard a talk given by a Roman priest where he recalled a conversation he had with a Presbyterian minister.

The minister said, “Reverend (he would not call the priest father), if I believed what you do about the Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, I’d be flat on my face before it and you’d have to pull me away!”

That minister recognized something that many of us do not. And we actually do believe Jesus is Really Present in the Eucharist!

What he said is a bit extreme. Jesus doesn’t expect us to stay here. In fact He told us to “Go, into all the world…”

But He does expect us to accept His invitation. As the Gospel shows, He doesn’t just overlook reasons that make light of His invitation.

He expects us to understand the privilege we have, and be here.

   “…many are called, but few are chosen.” These are very pointed words.

Some find them harsh, but they are not! They are honest truth.

The Father calls many to the marriage feast. How many? All who have been baptized. That’s a lot of people!

And yet while many are called, few are chosen.

The Father respects the gift of free will He has given to each of us.

Each of us has the choice, the real choice, to accept His gracious invitation or refuse it. And a lot of people do refuse it.

Some choose to not come to the marriage feast. Some go even further and choose to reject the grace of Holy Baptism they have been blessed with.

Let us be among the chosen few!  Let us both accept the grace of Baptism we have been blessed with and the invitation we have to the marriage feast.

Ephesians 1:3,4 states “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love:”

Brethren, let us live as those who have been chosen in Christ!

Today’s Epistle teaches us how to do so.

Ephesians 5:15, 17 states “See then that ye walk circumspectly (exactly, accurately, diligently), not as fools, but as wise… Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is.”

The Lord’s will is for us to accept the invitation He gives us to the marriage supper. The Lord’s will for us is, unless really prevented, to be here at mass!

Let us not be unwise. Let us not make light of the invitation. Let us not refuse it.

It really is a privilege to be here at mass this morning.

Hopefully we see this more now than we did when we walked into the nave

Our Father in heaven has called and chosen us. Our Lord Jesus is Really Present. Our bodies and souls are fed with the Bread of heaven.

How could we refuse so wonderful an invitation?  Amen.

 

Trinity Nineteen (2018)

(St. Matthew 9:1-8)

“Jesus entered into a ship, and passed over, and came into his own city.”

I believe we all know that the chapter breaks and verse numbering in our Bibles are not in the original texts. They’re great to have, but not inspired.

Schemes for ordering the content of Scripture did not begin to be used until the fifth century, and the chapter and verse scheme used by all current Bibles was not constructed until the 16th century.

The point I’m trying to make is this. As we read Scripture we need to be aware that where one chapter or verse ends is not necessarily the best place.

Now, I’m not saying we should reorder the chapters and verses. What I am saying is we need to be mindful of this and not cut our thoughts off from one chapter to another or one verse to another, based on it alone.

A good example of this is today’s Gospel Lesson.

St. Matthew 9:1 says “Jesus entered into a ship and passed over…”  This naturally engenders the question “Where did He enter the ship?”

St. Matthew 8:28 tells us. “And when he was come over to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes…” We may know this area better as the land of the Gadarenes. That is how St. Mark and St. Luke identify it.

Jesus had entered the ship in Gadara, which is located on the south-eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee. From there He sailed to Capernaum on the northern shore. Jesus had adopted Capernaum as His home city.

I’m making this distinction because the city of Gadara and the city of Capernaum received Jesus quite differently.

As the Lesson reports, the people of Capernaum received Jesus joyfully and they glorified God for the healing of the man sick of the palsy.

The situation in Gadara was much different.

When Jesus arrived there St. Matthew tells us He was met by two men who were possessed with demons. Those demons confronted Jesus saying “…what have we to do with thee…?”

Off in the distance, Jesus saw a herd of swine feeding along the coast and commanded the demons in those two men to leave and enter into the herd.

The demons had to obey Jesus, and when they entered the swine they caused the whole herd to run down the hill into the sea where they drowned.

When word of what Jesus did in healing the two demon possessed men reached Gadara, Scripture tells us the “whole city” came out to meet Him.

But upon seeing Jesus what did they do?

Did they invite Him into the city joyfully like the people of Capernaum did? Did they glorify God like the people of Capernaum had? No!

St. Matthew 8:34 states “…they besought him, that he would depart out of their coasts.”

In other words, they told Jesus “Get out! We don’t want you here!”

Reading this today, as those who believe in Jesus, we think “How could the Gadarenes do that? How could they kick Jesus out of town?”

But should we really be surprised?

In our nation, and even in some parts of the Church, people are saying the very same thing “What have we to do with thee you Jesus! Get out!”

Why is this?

In St. Luke’s account of this miracle, chapter 8, we are told the Gadarenes told Jesus to leave because “ …they were taken with great fear.”

What did they fear? I guess it’s possible they feared Jesus’ power, and thought He might use it to harm them?  That’s possible.

What is more likely though is they were afraid Jesus would exorcise their demons too, and they did not want to let go of them!

Think of it…Gadarenes were Jews and yet they were raising swine!

In Deuteronomy 14:8 God told Israel they were not to eat or touch swine.

Yet here the Gadarenes were raising them.

The raising of swine, and Jesus sending the demons into them to their death, is a symbol of what He desired to do for all the people of Gadara.

He wanted to cast their sinfulness out of them.

He wanted to forgive and heal them, as He would do in Capernaum.

But the Gadarenes did not want that! They wanted to keep their sins (like they wanted to keep raising their swine), and told Jesus “Go away!”

An ever increasing number of people think the way the Gadarenes did.

They want to keep raising swine; keep doing what God’s Word says all men and women are not to do. They want to keep their sins!

2 Timothy 3:1-5 states “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves (selfie culture), covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection (same-sex attraction), trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof:”

Now I’m not saying we are in the “last days.”But we are seeing these very sins increase in our country right before our eyes!  And churches, the ones that “a have a form of godliness” are complicit in it.

Those who perpetrate, perpetuate and enable such sins are saying:

What have we to do with thee Jesus?  We know that you can heal us of our sins, but we don’t want you to! Get out! Leave us alone! Go away!

As Jesus did in Gadara, He is seemingly doing today.

At their behest Jesus is leaving; leaving those who want to sin, to live in their sins. He won’t force us to repent, believe, be healed and be saved.

Don’t misunderstand. Jesus graciously offers forgiveness to EVERYONE (St. John 3:16, 17)

He desires it. He died for it. But He won’t force it.

The question that begs to be answered then is this…What about us?

Are we citizens of Capernaum or citizens of Gadara?

Do we receive Jesus with great joy? Do we rejoice in the forgiveness and healing we see Him bringing to others; to their sins and other ailments? Do we follow after Him and plead with Him to forgive and heal us too?

Or do we reject Jesus because we want to keep our swine, keep our sins?

Maybe not all of them, but some or even one of them?

Do we want Jesus to leave us, leave us alone with our sins because our desire for them is greater than our desire for Him?

Brethren we see an astonishingly increasing number of people around us who want to live like the Gadarenes.

People who want to keep doing what God’s Word plainly says is sinful.

People who do not want Jesus to forgive and heal them.

People who are telling Jesus to leave them alone.  What about us?  My hope is we are saying…

“Welcome to Capernaum Lord Jesus!” Amen.

 

St. Michael and All Angels (2018)

(St. Matthew 18:1-10, Revelation 12:7-12)

Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought his angels, and prevailed not.”

Angelology, the study of angels, is not something the Church addresses on a regular basis throughout the year.

Were it not for this feast day there would be no natural place to work a sermon on angels into the lectionary of the Prayer Book (though the Missal provides several other feasts for angels).

Not that there is a need to become experts in angelology, but since there are many myths and much lore about them in our day, it is important that we have a basic, Scriptural and orthodox understanding of them.

There are two verses in the Epistle to the Hebrews which form “book ends” for teaching us the ministry and witness of the angels.

The first verse is Hebrews 1:14, where Scripture teaches “Are (the angels) not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be the heirs of salvation?” 

The first part of the angelic ministry is to minister to Christians, the heirs of salvation.” Specifically this is all who have been baptized into Christ.

Of course those whom God has marked for salvation but have not yet been converted and baptized are also included as “heirs of salvation,” God knowing those who are His.

Many of the Fathers of the Church taught every child is given a Guardian Angel from the moment of their conception. I believe they are right.

In the concluding verse of the Gospel lesson Jesus says: “take heed that ye despise not these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels so behold the face of my father which is in heaven.”  The Greek word for “little ones” is micros, which means small or infantile.

  Here Jesus is certainly speaking of all who in His day were circumcised and in our day are baptized, and may be speaking of all babies in general.

The point is adult conversion and faith are not prerequisites for receiving the angelic ministry.

In God’s eternal providence, angels are sent by Him to guide and protect the heirs of salvation from spiritual and physical harm.

In the New Testament we are given an example of this ministry in Acts 12:6-10 when St. Peter was freed from prison by an angel.

In the OT there are several examples of this ministry. One of them is found in Daniel 6 where Daniel was saved from death in the lion’s den by an angel.

In v. 22 Daniel testifies to Darius the king: “My God hath sent his angel to shut the lion’s mouths, that they have not hurt me.” 

   There are other examples of angelic ministry in Scripture, and in each of them we find the angels doing the same thing; they minister to God’s heirs of salvation by ministering to their need, whatever it may be.

Ministering to the heirs of salvation is the primary work and purpose of the angels, but there is a second part too.   Hebrews 13:1, 2, teaches their ministry provides us with the opportunity to follow the angelic example and serve the needs of others.

Those verses state: “Let brotherly love continue.  Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” 

God sends His angels to us so we can minister to them!

Of course we likely will not know with any surety when we have ministered to an angel, but the testimony of Scripture is we can.

Does this mean angels can take a human form?  Yes, it does.

We know this is true from Genesis 19 where two angels were sent by God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. (Abraham’s nephew) Lot took them into his home and fed them.

Genesis 19:5 states the men of Sodom believed those angels were human and tried to storm Lot’s house to commit the sin of sodomy with them. Lot held the men of Sodom at bay until the angels smote them with blindness.

Scripture does not say explicitly why God sends angels for us to minister to unawares, but it is reasonable to say He does so in order to test our faithfulness and obedience to His Word.

In Galatians 6:9, 10 St. Paul exhorts, “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.  As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” 

Of course God may not give us the opportunity to do good to an angelic visitor posing as a person, but the very fact Scripture says He sends them to us for that reason provides additional motivation for us to serve everyone we can, especially fellow heirs of salvation; our sisters and brothers in Christ.

We never know when the stranger God gives us opportunity to minister to may be an angelic visitor sent to us to test our faithfulness.

What a blessed opportunity God gives us to imitate the ministry of His angels as we meet the needs of others.  We can read a wonderful example of that blessing in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit.

The purpose and work of the angels can then be summed up in two words: “ministry” and “service.”

As heirs of salvation by Holy Baptism and faith, we need to look for opportunities to emulate the purpose and work of the angels.

Certainly we shouldn’t pass any opportunities by.

Angels have been sent by God to minister and serve us, as well as to give us the opportunity to imitate them and minister and serve others.

Though their work on God’s behalf goes beyond this (as we heard in Revelation this morning), for us who have been created “a little lower” than the angels, but will one day judge them, this is the part of their ministry we can best emulate as we await the fulfillment of the Kingdom.

May God grant us the grace, wisdom and courage to imitate the angels.

And may He send us His angels to give us aid in our times of need.  Amen.

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