Trinity Eighteen 2017

(1 Corinthians 4:1-9, St. Matthew 22:34-46)

“Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace…” (Collect of the Day)

The foundation of the Christian life is grace.

If we are seen as being righteous in God’s eyes, if we love Him with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and if we are loving our neighbor as ourselves, we are doing so only by God’s grace.

The word “grace” in Greek is “charis”.  It means “unmerited divine influence upon the heart.”  This is what God has given to us: His unmerited divine influence upon our hearts, His grace.

This unmerited gift of grace was given to us at Holy Baptism.  When the waters of the Sacrament flowed over our heads, the unmerited favor of God flowed into our hearts as the Holy Ghost came to dwell within us.

In last Sunday’s Collect for the Day we asked for this grace to “always  (precede) and follow us, and make us continually to be given to all good works.”  That collect is not only a good prayer, it is good theology.

If we have a true, lively and active faith, and by that faith are striving to live in holiness and obedience…

If we are walking the way of the Cross on our way to the Kingdom of Heaven, it is because God’s grace both precedes and follows us.

The Christian life is a life of grace.  As St. Paul says we live from “faith to faith”, and faith itself is produced by grace.

This being so we never lack anything we need to remain in fellowship with God.  As we are told in this morning’s Epistle, the grace given to us by Christ Jesus has enriched us in everything and keeps us from falling short in any necessary virtue.

If we are striving to live the way God wants us to; the way the Holy Ghost is showing us that we should be living, then we must not despair, for He will continue to hold us firmly in His loving hand.

He who has begun this good work in us will bring it to completion until the Day Christ returns or we go to Him.

This is so because of the gift of God’s grace.

God has reached out to us in Christ and accounted us righteous for His sake.  He has taken the guilt of our sins away and infused the grace born of Christ’s righteousness into us.

And now, being set free from the guilt of sin we have been made capable of upholding God’s standard of holiness.

Now we can truly love God and our neighbor as ourselves, because God is enabling us to do so by the divine influence of His Spirit.

Now we can work out our own salvation, because He is working in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

Now we can boldly testify on the behalf of Christ because God has given us a spirit of power, of love and of a sound mind.

Now we can be holy as He is holy, we can be perfect (that is complete) as He is perfect, because the perfection of Christ dwells within us.

All of this is possible for us by grace, so let us not be fooled. Grace is the foundation of our salvation.

As St. Paul states it in Ephesians 2:8, 9 “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.”

Brethren, we are Christians only because God has, is and continues to work His charis, His grace, within their lives.

It starts at Baptism when God infuses grace into us.

It grows through hearing and reading Sacred Scripture, believing what it declares, surrendering to it by faith, and professing that belief and faith in our words and actions.

It is sustained by the Eucharist, by prayers and good works done in faith.

If we take hold of His unmerited divine influence upon our hearts and live it out in our lives each day, He will deliver us unto everlasting life through every obstacle the world, the flesh and the devil throws our way.

Salvation is God’s work in us from grace to grace, from first to last.

Let us keep hold of it, live in it and walk by it, giving all the glory to God.

For He has called us into fellowship with Himself in Christ, and there is no greater blessing that we can have.

O Lord, we beseech Thee, grant us Thy people, grace…  Amen.

Trinity Seventeen (2017)

(Ephesians 4:1-6, St. Luke 14:1-11)

“I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”

The word in the KJV translated here as “vocation” means “calling” or more specifically “the divine calling or invitation of God.”

In this context then the word “vocation” means our overall calling by God unto discipleship in Jesus Christ and not the specific “job” we are doing.

Every Christian has the type of vocation St. Paul is addressing.

It is the divine calling God placed on our life when were born again by water and the Spirit in Holy Baptism, which we ratified in the Sacrament of Confirmation when we professed with our mouth the Lord Jesus that we believe in our heart God has raised Him from the dead.

So the question isn’t “Do I have this vocation?” Each of us definitely has it.

The question is “Am I walking worthy of this vocation?”

Am I doing what God wants me to do with the grace He has bestowed upon me through His divine calling?

“Am I a prisoner of the Lord as St. Paul was?”  

When St. Paul wrote his epistle to the Ephesians he was literally a prisoner of the Lord.

We are told in Acts he had been arrested in Jerusalem and brought to Rome where he spent about 2 years under a form of house arrest.

You and I are not (not yet) being asked to be literal prisoners of the Lord.

We are though being asked to be held captive by the Holy Spirit for the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ in another way.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 St. Paul describes a prisoner of the Lord: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exhalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringeth into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 

A prisoner of the Lord is held in captive-obedience to Christ.

A prisoner of the Lord does not try to live both in and of the flesh.

(While living in the flesh is something we cannot avoid in this age for we are human beings,  living of the flesh is a choice of our free will.)

A prisoner of the Lord receives all might from the power of God’s Spirit living in and through us.

A prisoner of the Lord allows this power of the Spirit to pull down the fleshly strongholds that get built into our desires and actions; casting down all thoughts, judgments and reasoning used to excuse sin and defy God.

A prisoner of the Lord has every thought taken captive, taken prisoner, by the Holy Spirit for the glory of Jesus our Lord.

This is what the Holy Ghost is exhorting us to. We are to be captives of Christ; prisoners of the Lord.

The measure for knowing whether or not we are prisoners of the Lord is defined for us in the rest of this morning’s Epistle Lesson.

St. Paul states that if we are prisoners of the Lord we will live a life of lowliness and meekness, which doesn’t mean we become “pushovers!”

Jesus was the lowliest and meekest Man that ever lived, and yet He was mighty in His divine power to go eye to eye with the Pharisees and Scribes, challenging the false religion they propagated.  Are we that lowly and meek?

A prisoner of the Lord is long-suffering and forbearing. He is patient with others, and for the sake of others refrains when he could payback a wrong done, can gain an upper hand or advance himself.

A prisoner of the Lord lives the parable Jesus teaches in today’s Gospel Lesson.  He doesn’t exalt himself, but rather takes the lowest place and waits to see if the Master of the feast calls him up to a higher place.

He endeavors to keep unity and peace within the Church, the home and work place, striving to please the Lord and not men, knowing that any substantial reward he might receive will come from the Lord and not men.

The prisoner of the Lord lives in the powerful truth that there is only One Lord, One Faith and One Baptism which he must remain faithful to.

The prisoner of the Lord seeks the Kingdom of God and His righteousness above all things, leaving the rest to God and His indefectible will to determine what will and will not be added unto his life.

St. Paul was physically a prisoner of the Lord in Rome twice in his life.

After being released from the first imprisonment he embarked on new missionary journeys that are not recorded in Acts. He was martyred at the end of his second imprisonment, likely in AD 66 or 67.

He wrote his second Epistle to Timothy during his second imprisonment.  It was likely his final epistle, written a few months before He was martyred.

In chapter 4, verse 6 of that epistle, St. Paul provides the ultimate definition of a prisoner of the Lord: For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is now at hand.”

The word “offered” here means to be “poured out” like an Old Covenant drink offering, which was poured out before or upon the altar in the Temple.

It means to be completely spent in the service of our Lord.

It means surrendering all we are and aspire to be to God, for His use and His glory.

How could St. Paul say this?  He was a prisoner of the Lord, what else could he say?

What may be preventing us from saying this?

Jesus tells us the servant is no better than his master, but if he is faithful, he can be as his master.  Well our Master, Jesus Christ, was poured out like a drink offering on the altar of the Cross on Golgotha.

Every drop of His precious, sinless blood poured from the wounds His body sustained in His passion and crucifixion to the point when the soldier thrust the spear in His side first a little blood, and then water poured out.

He left nothing for Himself.  He poured His whole life out as an offering before His Father.  And He did it for us, for our salvation.  

My brethren, we are not better than our Master.  But if we are faithful, we can be as our Master, and as His blessed Apostle St. Paul.

We can become ready to be offered. We can give all that we are and have to be poured out like a drink offering before our Father in heaven, to glory of His Son.  We can be prisoners of the Lord.  Amen.