Behold What Manner Of Love

THE TWENTY-FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 St. John 3.1)

Mother church, in her wisdom, has a keen way of simultaneously drawing the conscientiousness into two realities. She accomplishes this through her liturgies and in the progression of the liturgical seasons which make up the Christian calendar. For example, the horror of Good Friday places us squarely in the sorrows of the Lord’s crucifixion, and at the same time, we sense a lingering hope, an Easter joy assured to rise on Sunday morning

These liturgical transitions (from Epiphany to Lent, Easter to Pentecost, and Trinity to Advent) sets human existence in two truths, two realities, both our history and our future. Yet, we are not disoriented but further oriented to not only the meaning of history, but reality as well. This is because time and history ordered, understood, and deciphered through the life of Christ has this effect. In Christ, the veil is pulled off of the false constructs and romanticized realities we employ to make sense of the world. These counterfeits are unmasked and shown to be what they really are. Reality- all history and the trajectory of time- is only understandable in the incarnation, the crucifixion and ascension, and the future return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Adventus Christi… The Advent season is nearly upon us. Perhaps you’ve begun to sense this transition in the lectionary readings of the past week with themes of God coming to his creation, echoes of the incarnation, that great cosmic event bringing salvation and judgment, the final consummation of salvation history. The Lord Jesus Christ is coming. This is Advent’s clarion call. It is a time of expectant waiting and preparation for the coming of God in Christ, his incarnation and nativity, but equally, it is a time of holy expectancy and spiritual preparation for his second coming, the parousia of our Lord.

The Advent season provides the rationale for the heavy emphasis Trinity-Tide puts on spiritual growth: the purgation of sin and attaining illumination, so that we may attain union with Christ. Preparing for the return of the King. And yet, the great mystery in the Old Testament of God coming to his people is that he would come not once, but twice. First, to save. Then to judge. And on that great and future day, what do we hope for? Is it not to see him and to become as he is? Is this not the assurance of hope spoken of this evening by St. John the divine? “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

Much emphasis has been placed on our doing the work of sanctification during these many weeks of Trinity-tide, on becoming perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. And I hope that we have been mindful to steer clear of the two great errors of Christian spirituality: one, working in our own strength or two, resigning ourselves to passivity as if we have nothing to contribute. Rather, we should hold together both the empowerment of God’s Holy Spirit and our willing and working unto holiness. Man tills the ground and casts the seed, but God makes it rain and brings forth fruit from the earth.

This evening, St. John would have us pause from our spiritual work. Through his epistle, he wants us to remember and contemplate the deep, abiding, and unending love of God. The incomprehensible way in which God the Father loves his children. For, according to the blessed Apostle, that’s exactly who we are: we are sons and daughters of God. “Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”

What manner of love has God the Father bestowed upon us? Here St. John calls us to employ the gift of memory, to remember what God has done for us in Christ. First, the Father hath loved us (past tense). He took the initiative to love and so the Apostle declares, “we love him because he first loved us.” The God who is love, is the first mover in loving.

For God in Christ moved from the riches of heaven, he that was rich became poor “Who, 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.” And let’s be brutally honest: in our fallen state we would never have reached out to God. In our pride we would rather have drowned before calling out for help. For as the psalmist says, no man seeks God and the fool says in his heart there is no God (Ps 53.1-2).

Prideful fools. Prideful and in bondage to sin. “Because of the weakness of our flesh,” says St. Paul, “we used to offer our bodies in slavery to impurity and to escalating wickedness… we were enslaved to sin” (Rom 6.19-20). We simply could not break free from the wicked tyranny, in fact, we loved our sin (certainly more than we loved Christ). We were dead in our transgressions. Dead. Completely incapable of reversing our sad estate.

But God is love and love acts! The Giver gives! St. John says, the love the Father hath given to us. Not the love the Father imagined, or felt, or manifested toward us, but the love He has given to us. God so loved the world that he gave—He gave—his only begotten Son. What manner of love? Behold, dear friends, a love that gathered shape and form and embodied itself in Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. A love which refused to remain an abstract conception, a mere principle. It took shape: love incarnated— God’s unspeakable gift to man.

What manner of love? A love that broke the shackles of sin. “And ye know that he was manifested to take away our sins… “This is the ‘why’ of God’s incomprehensible love towards us. “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” The love of God became flesh to redeem, to re-make, and to glorify sinners such as us. This is what manner in which God has loved you. It is the very love which preserves you now, moment by moment. It is the love which woos our affections and enkindles a holy impulse to return his love: to joyfully and obediently serve He who first loved us: “for if you love me, keep my commandments.”

What manner of love? A love that makes us sons and daughters of God. “Beloved, now we are the sons of God…” By his love we have attained sonship, we are the sons and daughters of God, this is our present reality. To us has been given all spiritual blessings in the heavenly places in Christ. He has adopted us into his family by Christ Jesus, in whom also we have obtained and share an eternal inheritance. All of this is ours and yet it remains to be fully realized: it is the glorious inheritance of the saints in light which awaits all faithful people. And here, the love of God informs the imagination, filling our future with expectant hope as we contemplate and envision that future day when the promises of God are fully realized in history and in us the church. A terrible and wonderful day “when the sun is darkened and the moon will not give her light, and the stars fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens are shaken: and then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: then shall 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.” On this future day, the second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, some will mourn at his coming, fatherless, and outside of the promises. God have mercy!

But Christian, take heart, for Christ shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. The sons and daughters of God will hear the trump and know who has come, as sheep who hear and know the Shepherd's voice: Those who love Christ and who are loved by him. Beloved come. Come to the table where past, present, and future intermingle. Come, remembering the love of God in Christ towards you, filled with joyful expectancy of that future day when he shall appear again with power and great glory, when we will be made like unto him in his eternal and glorious kingdom. Amen.

That You May Be Filled

THE 24TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

As I have often stated from this pulpit, this long season of Trinity-Tide is all about progress. Not in the modern ‘self-actualization’ sense, but spiritual progress, transformation and betterment attained through supernatural means; not eliminating the necessity of self-involvement, rather, we cooperate with the supernatural the Holy Spirit. Described by St. Paul as, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Christian spirituality flies in the face of this secular age of atomization and endless division. It is cohesive and unified holding the natural and spiritual together: God working in man and man willing after God. Think of the great mystery of Christ in us and we in him… this is the great mystery of salvation, of sanctification, and ultimately our glorification.

Every person wants to flourish in this life finding fulfillment in every aspect of existence. But what man envisions as flourishing and fulfillment falls woefully short, its earthbound aim directed towards realizing the best possible life and version of ‘me’ here on earth. But God’s economy and providence is far greater and wonderful than what man imagines for himself. Christian spirituality sets its sights beyond this earth, moving towards a something and a Someone, it takes us far beyond a purely horizontal and materialistic vision of life. For God the Father intends not only to redeem but remake; too transfigure and transform the imperfect into the perfect, to conform us into the image of His Son.

Perfection! This is true human flourishing: to be perfected in Christ. Our souls made whole and clean, our bodies raised spiritual, numbered among the Saints of Light, engrossed in the eternal and euphoric worship of Christ. If this is the goal, then the daily spiritual life is entirely about progressing in holiness. This is the great enterprise of the Christian life and the purpose of all spiritual exercise, piety, and disciplines: striving towards perfection. St. John, in the third chapter of his first epistle puts it this way,

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.

But, progress towards holiness is challenging to say the least. Some days are like the greek myth about Sisyphus the king of Ephyra who toils and struggles to push an immense boulder up a hill only to have it role away and disappear when he finally gets it to the top. The spiritual life is a struggle, it is elusive, often appearing to be a work of utter futility. For although we are in Christ, we are imperfect and O’ so susceptible to the enticements of the world, the desires of the flesh, and schemes of the devil. The Collect appointed for this Sunday judges us correctly, we are frail, and in our frailty sin. Our sins corrupt that hopeful blessed vision of a future day united with Christ, we become spiritually near-sighted, incapable of seeing beyond this present world.

The corrective is purity, to put sins to death and strive for godliness. Hope desire purity and purity is the unobstructed path to Christ.  St. John writes every man that has this hope (of future perfection) purifies himself, even as Christ is pure. Sanctification, the pursuit of holiness, is not simply to be good moral people (it is this in part but so much more). We strive for holiness because we deeply desire to be with Christ, in him. Is this not the deepest desire of your own heart, to see God? To behold his face and look into his eyes, lost in the endless depths of love, mercy, compassion, and grace. To hear his voice. With him in that blessed place where has gone to prepare for us.

Christ is our reward, the pearl of great price, the greatest and highest good; he is the tree of life, whose fruit strengthens and heals the nations forever and ever, alleluia. He is why we wake up pray in the Morning Prayer Office for him to Defend us [with his] mighty power; and grant that this day we fall into no sin, neither run into any kind of danger; but that all our doings, being ordered by [his] governance, may be righteous in [his] sight. He is the absolution and forgiveness awaiting us at the end of each day, who hears our prayers who meets our humble confession of sins with absolving mercy and forgiveness. With a pure conscience we peacefully lay down on our beds and depart in peace into the deep darkness of sleep.

We want to see God… and so we take our baptismal vows seriously: manfully fighting for the cause of Christ, lovingly obeying his commands, faithfully serve his bride the Church, joyfully proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom while renouncing the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, and the sinful desires of the flesh. Why? Because we want to be with Christ! If He is not the desire of faith and the aim of all spirituality, then we are busying ourselves with religious exercise.

Today on this twenty-fourth Sunday after Trinity we most likely find ourselves in one of two possible stages: we are either progressing in the spiritual life or regressing. There is no such thing as stagnation. A disciple is either moving closer to Christ or away from him. This is the difference. But what is common to both is that neither state has completely attained perfection; there still remains a great need to be filled and completed. For regardless of whether we are presently advancing or retreating we all desire to attain that future hope: our being made perfect.

This is the very same thing St. Paul wanted more than anything for the Christians in Colossal and he fervently prayed for them to press on, to attain more and more of Christ. For it’s not as if the Colossians were devoid of the things of Christ, rather, they were deficient with a far greater capacity for more! He writes, we give thanks to God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus, and of the love which ye have to all the saints, for the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel. He has heard nothing but good reports of the Colossians. They are evidencing the great marks of spiritual progress in the three necessary relations of the Christian life, which have to do with God, man, and ourselves.  

In relation to God, St. Paul says they possessed faith in Christ Jesus, in relation to one another they displayed a love toward all the Saints, while in relation to themselves they were conscious of the hope laid up for them in the heavens. And here we remember the words of St. John for these were hope-filled people pursuing purity; purity enabled by the truth and grace of the Holy Gospel which gave them both a new standard of life and the power to attain it. So St. Paul prays and thanks God for the spiritual progress they have already made.

But his prayer doesn’t end with thanksgiving for what God has already done in the life of this church. St. Paul knows that their past progress will serve as the foundation for greater attainments in the future, and what he has heard of their spiritual progress only stirs him to more earnest prayer on their behalf; for he knows they must push on. And so he continues,  praying for even greater spiritual progress, progress which knows no limit whatsoever,

we do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.

The fullness he prays for them- to realize, to experience and attain ‘all’ of the endless supply of Christ, every last bit, he prays for us as well. Like the Colossians we must pray for and desire to be filled with all that Christ affords us because absolute perfection, though never attainable in this life, is always to be before us as the goal and aim of the Christian life.

St. Paul prays that by grace, we expend our spiritual efforts in three directions. First, he wants us to attain the fullness of knowledge, not merely information about Christ but a knowing with a view to obedience, the knowledge of His will, a knowledge so internalized and digested that this wisdom translates into our conduct and actions: we live for Christ and as Christ. Second, he wants us to desire such a holiness as shall be worthy of our Lord, of the motives of His love, and the perfection of His example: such holiness as shall both be pleasing to God and shall produce every sort of good fruit towards men. And third, we are to receive strength from God, the necessary portion of strength needed to cheerfully endure in the duties and trials of the Christian life.

Friends if we think we have already arrived so to speak, we haven’t. We dare not limit the possibility and necessity of obtaining more knowledge, more holiness, and strength, all which are open to us, and which it is our duty to secure. But remember, we are not on some materialistic, secularized self-help pursuit. Neither is this the dead exercises of legalism. No. We secure the fullness of Christ by progressing towards holiness under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit. It is he who has done a work in you, is doing a work in you. In Christ, God has made us fit to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light. And let me re-emphasize, it is Christ, and him alone, who has made us partakers of a heavenly inheritance.

Were we not at one time as dead as the Synagogue ruler’s daughter? But we who were dead in our trespasses and sins have been made alive together with Christ for by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. From the deep sleep of death he took us by the hand and raised us from the dead. For Jesus Christ is the Lord over death! This is what St. Matthew proclaims in this evenings Gospel. Jesus is the greater Elijah, simply taking Jairus’ daughter by the hand, waking her from the sleep of death, for Jesus is the very embodiment of life, he is the power to heal, to bring what is dead to life again.

And having brought us back from the dead will he not also heal us of every infirmity of body and soul? In particular, will he not forgive us when in our spiritual life we stumble? Will repentance not be embraced by mercy? Will faith not collide with the compassion of Jesus Christ? For look how tenderly he cares for the poor woman who for twelve years suffered from an incurable hemorrhage. By faith she risks public ridicule and being ostracized by pushing through the crowd in hope of merely touching Jesus’ garment. She pushes on to attain Christ because she believes he can heal her in every possible way.

And here is the great mystery: Jesus has the power to heal but those who receive it are those with faith. For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. And let us not miss the word Matthew uses for ‘whole’ (sozo), which is the same word for to ‘save’, to ‘rescue’. He doesn’t want us to miss the greater point that her miraculous healing goes well beyond physical healing, it is a picture of salvation, both of body and soul. And when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Jesus Christ not only came to heal the sick, the blind, and the lame, but to heal hearts as well.

For twelve years she lived without hope. I imagine she sought every remedy and exhausted every man-made cure. Twelve years of sorrow, confusion, and ultimately resignation. Perhaps resignation is where you find yourself this evening, defeated in the spiritual life. At such times we can easily drown in an overwhelming sense of failure and finality.We desire to be loosed from our sins but find it nearly impossible to do so.

Tragically, we can compound this by ‘going it alone’ intensifying the work of self reparation, doubling down on ‘pulling up’ the old boot straps to get ourselves right with God and others. In other words, instead of turning to Christ who alone absolves and make pure, the only one who can lose the bands of sin and heal, we make the inward turn which leads to isolation and sorrow. But beloved, we are reminded this evening, that if by faith we press into Christ we will be healed of our infirmities and live.

On this Sunday, St. Paul tells us to pray unceasingly that we might be filled. And, St. Matthew reminds us to have faith, for in Christ is healing and life. Let us pray,

O LORD, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed. Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour. Amen.

All Saints Day

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints remembering the multitude of Saints who have gone before us: the Apostles, prophets, martyrs, and virgin. Both the well known and so many unnamed men, women, and children who persevered in this life until the very end. It is a day of varied emotions as we remember our dear loved ones who presently are asleep in the Lord; all the beloved servants who departed this life in the faith and fear of the Lord (some of whom we will remember this evening at the altar of the Lord). This day brings forth bittersweet tears of happy times gone by, intermingling sorrow and sadness with joy, a joy in knowing that they live- though departed from us now- they live in the presence of Christ awaiting the great trumpet blast which will bring body and soul together: glorified and unified with Christ the King.

St. John gives a glimpse into this great and future day, when all of the saints are vindicated and unified with their God and each other, “I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues, stood before the throne…” One of the great intersections on this Feast of All Saints, is the intersection of Heaven and Earth, how our earthbound hearts and minds are lifted up into the ‘otherworld’, that good and happy place which now we cannot see but one day will see. Through the Revelation of St. John, the Epistle appointed for this Feast Day, we are transported not only to where every faithful saint resides, but also transported to our end an aim: the eternal city with Christ, numbered among the great multitude.

What joy in knowing not only where our many loved ones have gone, but also, what a great source of hope and cause for gratitude in this life, in the now, in every second, minute, hour and day which the Lord gives. And lest we should falter and grow weary in our missionary task, take note of how many different peoples are gathered, and what a great multitude, so many saved in Christ Jesus, in fact, beyond man’s ability to number! Praise be to God!

While St John’s Revelation transports and draws us into heaven, collapsing time and space, our Gospel reading tethers us to the ground, for we are still here in this world, members of the visible church on earth, being gathered from every corner of the world into her saving arms, nurturing men, women, and children with her scriptures, liturgies, and sacraments unto salvation: as St. Paul writes, “travailing in birth on behalf of her children until Christ be formed in each one” (Gal 4.19).

Until Christ is formed in you and in me. This is the ministry of mother Church and our work as well, to work for righteousness and through grace, attain perfection: become as little Christ’s. And so Jesus, the true Moses, ascends a mountain and gives the Law, the Law unto holiness, the Law which brings blessings upon all who follow and lovingly obey the commandments of the Lord.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.”

Here, the Lord shows us the path unto holiness, the way of purity, the way of peace, the way of blessing. For this was the way of every saint who has gone before us, they weren’t perfect, but they pursued righteousness through covenant faithfulness and moral goodness. Being pure in heart, they now see God. The sermon on the mount is our path to unification with all the Saints and their Lord Jesus Christ. To be where they are, this is what we should desire and why we should emulate their good examples. In doing so, we walk blameless on this earth, with each step taking us closer to eternal bliss.

The writer of Wisdom says, “the righteous live for evermore; their reward also is with the Lord, and the care of them is with the most High. Therefore shall they receive a glorious kingdom, and a beautiful crown from the Lord’s hand: for with his right hand shall he cover them, and with his arm shall he protect them” (Wis 5.15-16).

Today we are given to see a future reward that awaits all the righteous, and, we are also reminded of God’s grace and protection in this life, as we struggle against the world, the flesh, and the devil; persecuted in this life, reviled, and evil spoken against us by men. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.” Amen.

Feast of Ss. Simon & Jude

THE FEAST OF ST. SIMON & ST. JUDE, APOSTLES

The feast of Saints’ Simon and Jude has been observed at least since the days of St. Jerome, where it appears in his lectionary - which means it was already being observed in some parts of the church prior to that. The saints are honored with their own feasts days in May and June in the Eastern Church, but in the Western Calendar they are honored together as Martyrs. One the reasons these two saints are honored together in our Calendar is that they were brothers, both sons of Cleophas and Mary Clopas, and thus the nephews of St. Joseph, with Mary Clopas being the Virgin Mary’s Sister-in-Law. Likewise, brothers of James the Less and therefore, cousins or “brethren” of our Lord as we read about the Gospels. In Exposition of the Sayings of the Lord of the Apostolic Father Papias of Hierapolis, who lived around 70-163 AD, explained Mary of Cleophas was be the mother of James the Just, Simon, Judas (identified as Jude the Apostle), and Joseph (Joses). Papias also identifies this Mary as the sister of Mary, mother of Jesus, and as the maternal aunt of Jesus. This is confirmed by St. Jerome (On the Perpetual Virginity) and by ancient church historian Eusebius of Caesarea.  

Of St. Simon, John Henry Blunt, mentions, that some early Greek writers claim that he visited Britain as was martyred there by crucifixion, probably at the hands of the Romans. But, other accounts have him ministering in Persia and being sawn in half by Pagan Magi with his brother St. Jude, who was also the author of the short Epistle in the New Testament, also being martyred Either way, both were martyrs of Jesus Christ and  their relics were translated shortly after to Rome at St. Peter’s where now the remains of SS Simon and Jude rest in the same tomb, next to their uncle St. Joseph. Thus, we wear liturgical red today in the honor of the blood of Martyrs and therefore, the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

We observe multiple festivals of the saints during the Christian year. As the Christian Calendar developed the first feasts came from the Jewish Calendar - Pascha or Easter, Pentecost, and  then Ascension Day was based upon these. The feast of the Lord’s Incarnation, developing around the Annunciation on March 25 was then observed and then Christmas nine-months later. But, incredibly early on liturgical scholars observe the widespread commemoration of the martyrs - the remains of the martyred were tended to, revered, and treated with the utmost measure of honor. We must remember that many of the earliest churches were found in catacombs. The church worshiped amongst her dead and altars were literally built over the remains of their brothers and sisters who gave their lives even to the point of death, to imitate Christ Jesus who gave himself for the life of the world. Their feasts were generally kept of the date of their martyrdom (heavenly birthday). We must note that this was not some early Christian occurrence either, but grew naturally out of Judaism. We read in the account 2 Maccabees Chap. 7, perhaps the first martyrology: seven sons terribly martyred in front of their mother for following YHWH’s Covenant  and not bowing down to the false gods and rulers of the Greeks - these martyrs are likewise remembered in by St. Paul in his “Cloud of Witnesses” in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Also, in the 12th chapter the remains of fallen Jewish soldiers were carefully tended too, prayed for, and gathered to be laid amongst the ancestral graves. This is the practice of the early church.

The Holy Gospel today, for the feast of SS. Simon and Jude, comes from John 15. Jesus contends for his people to follow him, even in opposition and trial: “If the world hates you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” The world hated SS. Simon and Jude, the world hated SS. Peter and Paul, the world hated S. John the Baptist...the world hated Jesus. The world put them to death, the world persecuted what was holy, and tried to extinguish the “Marvelous Light” that God had brought into the world in Christ Jesus. But, beloved, Jesus has overcome the world. He has overcome death, and he has conquered hell. The old will pass away and a new Kingdom has been inaugurated in the midst of this present evil age. Therefore, let us keep the faith, let us not been given over to a spirit of fear, and let us crucify the flesh and live in the reality of the work of Christ. SS. Simon and Jude are witnesses of Jesus - let us look to them in our missionary endeavors. They followed Christ to the end of their lives, and have been given a martyr's crown in return and will experience the bliss of the resurrection - eternal life.

As we remember them at the altar this evening, remember that we are participating in this Holy Communion with them. “Therefore with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven…” Likewise, let us “follow their good examples that with them we may be partakers of God’s heavenly kingdom.” As our collect so beautifully teaches us, “O ALMIGHTY God, who hast built thy Church upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone; Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their doctrine, that we may be made an holy temple acceptable unto thee; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Stand In The Gospel Of Peace

THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY

In last week’s Gospel parable of The Wedding Feast of the King (Mt 22.1-14), Jesus reminded us of future judgment; judgment upon all who will not accept the King’s invitation, and, judgment upon Christian’s who having accepted, refuse to live their lives according to the calling they have received. We are called unto a life of holiness, to put on Christ, and thereby become recognizable to the King who clothes us with the beautiful wedding garment. But a holy life is not easy. In fact it is fraught with perils of all kinds, external temptations, the inner-life and its proclivity to vice and concupiscence. The Christian life is a continual struggle against sin, against the world, the flesh, and the devil.

St Paul encourages us this evening,

My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might... Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph 6.10).

In other words, underneath and behind all that is human and sinful, Satan is active. That crafty serpent seizes upon the corrupt nature of fallen men. Active in the worldly structures and institutions of power and influence, the world-ruling powers of men, in a world which lie in darkness.

To live as Christ, to seek after righteousness, to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, is a battle… it is an all out war! So St. Paul employs a military term to exhort us this evening, to the Church at Ephesus and to us he says “stand”; hold your ground; be steadfast and unwavering. But to stand, one must first put on the Divine armor, every single available piece of protection: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, our feet fitted with the preparedness that comes from the good news of peace, and taking up the shield of faith. Only then, clothed in the Divine armor will we be able to stand in the conflict which is ever at hand, and afterwards, stand as victors in Christ.

Central to our ability to stand amidst the onslaught of the enemy, both his internal and external attacks, "our feet,” says St. Paul, “must be shod with the preparedness of the Gospel of peace.” What does this mean? First we must think of the war-sandals common to Paul’s day that provided a firm footing and gait to the soldier. Second, the sandals are a metaphor for the ‘gospel of peace’, it is the Gospel in which the feet of the warrior of Christ stand. By the Gospel we who were wicked sinners and enemies of God, St. Paul says we were at enmity with God, and why? Because at one time we were on fighting for the wrong side, our allegiance was to self, our master… sin.

Hear St. Paul again,

In times past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others (Eph 2.2).

“But God…” the two sweetest words that ever touched the ears of sinners,

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. 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 (Eph 2.2-8).

Now in Christ we are finally at peace with God. No longer enemies but friends. No longer stranger but sons and daughters. No longer living in the fear and anxiety of death but filled with joy and hope of eternal life: for in Christ we have overcome death. No longer on shifting sand but standing firm in the peace of the Gospel. Pardoned by the King, not on account of anything we have done, but by faith in his beloved Son Jesus Christ, who gave himself for the life of the world. Hear the blessed Apostle,

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory (Rom 5.1-2).

We stand firm in the past knowledge of our salvation and the future hope of glory. And in the midst of the battle we are bold to say, If God is for us, who can be against us Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? (Rom 8.32-36). God stands for us when we stand in the Gospel of peace, of this we most certainly can be assured,

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 8.38-39).

Form the miracle of The Healing of the Nobleman’s Son (John 4.46) we learn that the peace of God, in times of trouble, depends upon faith and comes only to the believing. The nobleman set off on a journey of sorrow, anxiety, and sadness for his son was deathly sick. And,  yet it was a journey of faith, though mixed with fear. Without faith he would not have come. Faith was present, but feeble, for, unlike the Centurion, he thinks that Christ could not heal without coming, and that if the child died before He came all would be over. So, little faith has little peace.

Jesus said to nobleman, “Go thy way, thy son liveth.” Surely he who had faith to come needed a greater faith to go away!  Who can describe this return journey, and its struggle between faith and unbelief, between confidence and anxiety? But divine mercy shortened his time of trial, and arranged that the servants should meet their master by the way. Let us remember in our time of trial that the journey of faith may be shorter than we fear, and the message of peace may be already on its way.

And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, “Thy son liveth.” So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in the which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house (John 4.50).

Christ’s miracle was so absolute and so immediate that there was no further room for doubt. A journey that began in tribulation and sorrow ends in peace. And here were are reminded that peace is intricately connected to faith. “Above all, take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked” (Eph 6.16).

On this twenty-first Sunday in Trinity-Tide we learn that the blessing of peace flows from the blessing of pardon, from being reconciled to the Father through Christ by faith. This is beginning of true and lasting peace… Gospel-Peace; peace in the midst of trial; peace in the most difficult and angst ridden moments of our lives; the peace of God which passeth all understanding… a very present help in our time of trouble. Amen.

Many Are Called

the TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINTY

And when the King came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen. (Matthew 22.11-14)

This week, I happened to casually google, “what is a disciple of Christ?” As you would imagine, I found several interesting links, the majority of them were present day articles and blog posts which attempted to describe a disciple and explain the goal of Christian discipleship. One article in particular seemed to sum up the general consensus with the following: “So what is a disciple? Here are a three descriptors: A disciple is… rational (learner), relational (family), and missional (missionary).” I think we would all agree that yes, disciples are learners, they should be relational, and certainly missional. But in the various articles I read, I was hard pressed to find the word holiness used to describe  a disciple of Jesus Christ. Sadly it appears in many of our churches today, that we hear and see a great deal of emphasis placed upon Christian leadership and mission (both important), but strangely, very little on the pursuit of personal holiness as the goal of Christian discipleship.

God’s chief concern and His great desire is that we become Holy as He is Holy. He desired this for the nation of Israel to whom he said, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy (Lev 19.2). And, He speaks the same to us the Church. St. Peter writes, But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Pt 1.15). A chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people (1 Pt 2.9; Ex 19.6). St. Paul echoes this sentiment writing to the church at Corinth, Therefore, beloved, since we have these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that defiles body and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God (1 Cor 7.11); and from St. James, Allow perseverance to finish its work, so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (Js 1.4). The entirety of the Apostolic witness to God’s priority of holiness is summed up in the words of Christ himself who calls His church to be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect (Mat 5.48).

Being perfected in holiness… the great enterprise of Trinity-Tide the longest season of the Christian year spanning from Pentecost to Advent, some twenty plus weeks, emphasizing the purgation of sin, being illuminated by the Holy Spirit, and walking with God in righteousness and holiness: soberly working out our salvation in Christ, attending to the Holy Habits of daily prayer, reading God’s word, and worshipping in His church on the Lord’s day. The goal? Living each day in the closest possible proximity to Christ, with neither sin towards God or neighbor obstructing this sweet union.

In a real sense, the emphasis we put upon the rigor and disciplines of the daily spiritual life (the practicing Holy Habits) are the means used by the Holy Spirit to cultivate godly virtue, the firewall of defense against the many sins which impede relationship with Jesus Christ; our disordered passions, lusts, and proclivity to vice, obstructing any and all progress onto holiness. You see, the work of Christian Spirituality is to make oneself open to the operations of the Holy Spirit who works and wills in us that we might work for righteousness and will holy living. Virtue opens one up to the operations of God and those who are open are transformed.

In today’s Gospel reading, the parable of The Wedding Feast of the King (Mt 22.1-14), Jesus takes our focus away from the daily spiritual life and transports us to the end of the age, to the joyous marriage feast of the Lamb. But, in this parable, our Lord’s main focus isn’t on the joy and happiness of this future celebration. No, his emphasis- and it is a strong word- is upon judgment. Today Jesus reminds us of future judgment; judgment on all who will not accept the King’s invitation, and judgment upon Christian’s who having accepted, refused to live their lives according to the calling they have received.

The spiritual life is lived between two tensions, between the here and now, and that great future day of the Lord’s return, his second Advent, when (as we profess in the Creeds) Christ will come again to judge both the living and the dead. And this is why the season of Advent is so profoundly penitential because it draws our attention to both of the Lord’s Advents. During Advent we remember and celebrate God who in Christ came to save the world by His holy incarnation, and at the same time we assume a state of humility and penitence in preparation for His return.

This present moment of the spiritual life is never divorced from its future trajectory, its aim and end: future bliss; future perfection. A future and eternal union with God basking in the blinding light which is Christ who, from the center of the New Jerusalem, lights up the recreated Cosmos (the new heaven and earth), no longer barred from... but eating of the tree of life which bares twelve manner of fruits, yielding her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree are given for the healing of the nations (Rev 22.2). In that day, God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away (Rev 21.4).

This is euangelion, the Good News of the Kingdom, the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is the great hope and prize awaiting all faithful people who hear and respond in faith and charity to the King’s gracious invitation. But first, comes judgment. This is what Jesus desires to remind us of today, and again it is quite alarming: first, judgment will befall upon all who have not yet by faith believed on Him, and second, judgment awaits those who have accepted the Gospel invitation but do not live accordingly.

The first guests are likened to those who were invited and summoned to the feast several times (note how persistent, gracious, and patient the King is! He even prepared the finest food for his guests!) and yet they would not come; in fact, they actively and willfully chose not to attend. Here Jesus is speaking of the generation of Israelites who missed the day of their visitation, who with no regard, rejected their Messiah. The reason why sinners come not to Christ and salvation by Him is not because they cannot, but because they will not (John 5.40). Not only did those who were invited refuse to come, they violently took [the King’s servants], and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. In wrath, the King sent his armies and destroyed the murderers and burned up their city (Mt 22.7). Desolation and destruction.

God’s judgment fell upon unbelieving Israel. So very tragic and so very sad. Can you not hear the heart wrenching sorrow of our Lord as he mourns over His people? O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! (Mt 23.37). The wrath of men towards God will, in the end, be crushed by the Lord of all. Pray for the lost. Pray for sinners, pray fervently and earnestly for the salvation of all who disregard the call of the King to come! Who’s end is eternal punishment. God be merciful unto them as Thou hast been most merciful unto me!

But what of the second guest who accepted the invitation from the King but was found without the proper wedding garment? How did this man get in? And what is the marriage garment? Jesus continues, the servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests (Mt 22.19). We should note that the phrase ‘they gathered together’ literally means they ‘synagogued’ together, suggesting Jesus has the assembling of God’s new people in mind, the church, which commenced on Pentecost with the Apostolic mission. In this last portion of the parable Jesus is speaking to all who profess to be Christians.

Jesus says that both ‘the good’ and ‘the bad’ were invited and attended the dinner which would precede the wedding. Note how gratuitous the Gospel is, how non-discriminating and full of grace, distinctly open to outcasts and outsiders, the nobody’s and the failures, to the unimpressive. For scripture reveals time and time again the tender heart of the Lord towards the impoverished in body and soul. All who accepted the invitation were allowed to come into the meal; both good and bad. And here we call to mind Jesus’ teaching on the Wheat And The Tares,  how both grow together in the Church (often the one mistaken for the other) and are not to be separated until the end of the age, when the wheat will be gathered into the barn and the chaff cast into fire.

And when the King came to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding-garment: and he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding-garment? Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen (Mt 22.11-14).

Without the appropriate wedding robe the man stood out like a sore thumb, unable to escape the eye of the King. The man lacked the necessary garment to move from the meal to the wedding ceremony; though he ate and drank in the house of the King, he would not be a part of the blessed nuptial union about to take place. But what of this ‘garment’? What is Jesus speaking of? The garment must pertain to matters of the heart, for if it were an external garment the King would certainly have seen it. The garment in Matthew’s Gospel is holiness. It is not passive, imputed righteousness, but an active pursuit of doing God’s will; it is the evidence of repentance shown in loving obedience to Christ. It is active faith, fervent charity, and covenant fidelity.

Or as St. Paul says, it is our ‘putting on Christ’, faith worked out in love. And we’re not talking about dreary legalism either, a garment woven from our attempts to merit God’s grace! But neither is it faith alone, but woven both of faith and works; works which only come by faith in Christ and a lively faith evidenced by holy works. All who are invited are called by grace not by merit. “And having been called we are to adorn our bodies and souls with the finest linens and jewels of humble obedience and righteousness as becoming of guests of the King” (St. John Chrysostom). St James says, show me your faith apart from your works, and I’ll show you my faith by my works (Js 2.18). For a faith without works is a dead faith.

According to Jesus, the Christian life is lived between the cross and resurrection (in the past), over against the chair of judgment (in the future), and under His present commands to all who follow Him. And here is Jesus point: the story of one’s life is not over when one has accepted the gospel. There is a future divine review when we will be examined by the King. Therefore St. Paul exhorts us in today’s epistle,

See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs; singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all the things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph 5.15-20).

And here he gives us but one of example of what it looks like to dawn the garment of Christ, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of the God (v. 21). What a beautiful picture of a life lived in pursuit of holiness; of a church which when gathered, speaks lovingly, sings joyfully, and offers such thankfulness to God! Pursue holiness today while you have today and experience just a taste of the future joy which awaits all those clad in the garment of Christ who willingly accept the invitation of the King to Come! Come unto the wedding feast; all has been made ready; enter into the joy of your Lord! Amen.

St. Michael & All Angels

FROM THE VERY REV. RAY SUTTON

"Michael Your Prince"

Collect for St. Michael and all Angels

O EVERLASTING God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that , as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

The Scripture verse, “entertained angels unawares” (Hebrews 13:2) flashed before my mind one brisk fall morning in Philadelphia. I had just been called to be the new Dean of our oldest seminary, Reformed Episcopal Seminary. I had entered the west side of the city. A red light detained me. I was anxious to get on into the office. The light turned green. Just as I was about to put my foot on the gas, a young African American boy, out of nowhere, walked out in front of my car. I couldn’t believe it. I hadn’t seen him at all; I was frustrated that he had detained me that way.

A car honked behind me to get going. The little boy simply walked nonchalantly before me, preventing my acceleration through the red light. Then just as the little boy was about to be past my car so that I could go, suddenly out of my left eye I saw one of those giant gravel trucks barreling at full speed down the street in front of me. The driver was frantically trying to stop; apparently his breaks didn’t work. To my horror, he ran through the red light directly in front of me. If it hadn’t been for that young lad detaining me, I would have surely been broad sided and probably killed. I began to shake and realized I had escaped death; I quickly muttered, “Thank you Lord for saving me.” In the subsequent seconds as I regained my composure, it also came to me that the young man with whom I was so frustrated had actually saved my life. I wanted to get out and shout out a huge “thank you” to that little guy. I pulled my car over, got out and went up and down the streets around the intersection to try and find him. He was not to be found. Just as fast as he had appeared out of nowhere he was gone to nowhere. It’s like he disappeared. In fact, I believe he did vanish.

To this day I am firmly convinced that that small, African American boy was an angel in disguise, bless him. He was sent to save me from destruction. As the passage in Hebrews teaches, an angel unawares had visited me. Thank the Lord for the blessed, holy angel He sent to me that day.

What an angel did for me, however, is nothing new to the people of God. The Lord’s holy angels were created for and sent to humans to guard and watch over them. The important commentator on the Book of Common Prayer, Massey Shepherd, describes angels as, “attendants upon God’s court, ministers of His will, and succorers of God’s people” (The Oxford American Prayer Book Commentary, p. 251).

So powerfully and wonderfully have God’s archangels and angels looked over the affairs of humans, the Church established in the early centuries of her existence a special but unusual feast day, St. Michael and all Angels. “Its institution goes back to the fifth century when a basilica was dedicated to St. Michael on the Via Salaria, a little north of Rome – the first church in Italy named in honor of the archangel. Collects for this feast may be found in the Leonine Sacramentary” (Shepherd, TOABC, p. 251). The Eastern Church has two feast days devoted to angels. September 29 is for named angels. October 2 is devoted to the so-called, unnamed angels. In the Western tradition as represented in the Book of Common Prayer, one day is devoted to both the named and unnamed angels.

What strikes us first about this feast day is it is devoted in part to an archangel, Michael, whose name in Hebrew means, “Who is like God.” Significantly, Michael is a warrior angel who at the end of history fights against Satan and the angels who joined Beelzebub at the beginning of all times in rebelling against God in heaven. Isaiah tells us that Satan’s insurrection was driven by his obsession to be like, and even greater than God (Isaiah 14). So the one whose name is, “Who is like God,” meaning no one is like God, arises to defend the kingdom of heaven and defeat Satan whose wicked compulsion is to ascend above God and be God, what he can never become. St. John the apostle who is given to see the end of all things in the Book of Revelation, records in one short pericope the mighty victory of Michael over Satan and his evil spirits.

What also confronts us about the feast day of St. Michael and All Angels is that an archangel is called a saint. There are a couple of explanations. Perhaps the best is the simplest. The word saint means holy. Since angels and humans in heaven are referred to as holy, Michael is called, St. or Holy Michael. A second reason for calling Michael a saint is that he is referred to as a “Prince” of the people of God. When the Pre-Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ appears to Daniel while held captive in Babylon, Michael is described as, “Michael your prince” (Daniel 10:21; 12:1). Michael the Archangel is closely associated with God’s people as their prince and in some sense their representative, as is the nature of being a prince over people. In this regard, one can perhaps see why he would be called a saint like the other humans distinguished for their holiness.

On this special feast day, we are called in the propers to recognize the special role that angels play in protecting us. The Epistle is from Revelation 12:7. The passage describes the war in heaven that took place when Michael defeated Satan. The Gospel references angels as children’s protectors (Matthew 18:10). For this reason, Christian artists have sometimes portrayed angels as cherubs. In heaven and on earth, St. Michael and all Angels protect and fight for us.
 Therefore, the collect from the Sarum Rite (11th Century) as found in the 1662/1928 Book of Common Prayer and bound together in the REC prayer book, says, “O Everlasting God, who hast ordained and constituted services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succor and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” 

As that great hymn about angels interprets the aforementioned prayer and passages, the first stanza begins, “Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones, bright seraphs, cherubim and thrones, raise the glad strain, Allelulia! Cry out, dominions, princedoms, powers, virtues, archangels, angels’ choirs, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” Then the last stanza calls us to thank God for giving us His blessed angels in the words, “O friends, in gladness let us sing, supernal anthems echoing, Alleluia, Alleluia! To God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit Three in One, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Amen.”

So let us express our thanksgiving to our Triune God for St. Michael and all Angels on their special feast day. For as one author has put it paraphrasing the victory of God through St. Michael in Revelation 12:8, “The Devil can do his worst but he’s not strong enough to conquer heaven’s forces” (C. Fred Dickason, Angels: Elect and Evil).  Thanks be to God!

+RRS

No Man Can Serve Two Masters

The Fifteenth Sunday After Trinity

Today our Epistle Lesson comes from the 6th Chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. The Epistle was composed around 47-49 AD after Paul’s first missionary journey, but before the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15. This is one of the earliest Pauline letters, most important theologically, and one of the most widely distributed - “Galatians is quoted or alluded to in 1 Peter, Barnabas, 1 Clement, Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen. Both Marcion’s and the Muratorian canon list it.” (D. Wallace)

This short letter was one of the most important to Martin Luther and the Reformation of the Church. Major themes like “Justification by faith and not works of the Law” were a major influence on Luther and his contemporaries, as they saw the Roman Catholics of their day as the Judaizers of St. Paul’s day - adding rules, requirements, and religious regulation to the “pure” Gospel that St. Paul was preaching. Much academic work, especially in Jewish backgrounds of the New Testament, has been done since the 16th Century and in some ways it has cast doubt on some interpretations of the reformers. Regardless of particular Jewish customs, beliefs, and practises,  there still stands a bold premise in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians that speaks to every place and time: “Do not let anyone compel you to do anything except boast in the Cross of Christ.”

In Galatians 6:11 we read, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.” Now, this might seem a bit of an odd way for our epistle to begin today, but, just as St. Paul defended his Apostleship in Chaps.  1-2 we now see Paul saying: “I’m writing this with my own hand….this is not an emanuences, this is not a follower of me, this is the genuine Paul your bishop - you can trust what I am about to say.” Paul then addresses a powerful group which I mentioned earlier -  the Judaizers. He writes in Vs. 12-13, “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.” The Judaizers were compelling Gentile converts to be circumcised before they could come into fellowship with the church. Once they were circumcised then gentiles were compelled to keep the Jewish Dietary Laws, Sabbaths, Feasts, therefore the were being saved by faith plus works of Torah or works of the Old Covenant Law. Simply, to become a Christian you first had to be a Jew and once you were a Christians you had to keep the Old Covenant. This is what put a fire in St. Paul! Jesus never indicated that one must be Jewish to be a Christian - No he fulfilled the act of circumcision with Holy Baptism, the food sacrifices of the Temple all culminated into the Holy Eucharist, and Confession to a priest no longer required an animal sacrifice, rather a humble and contrite heart.  Jesus kept the law and in doing it fulfilled it.

Thus, not only does St. Paul accuse the Judaizers of not even keeping the Law they force upon Gentile converts, but he provides further indictment in V. 12 where he says the Judaizers force the Law on the Gentiles “simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.” In essence they don’t want to be persecuted by non-messianic Jews, so forcing new converts to become Jews granted them toleration rather than persecution. This is cowardice and it bends the Gospel of Jesus into something other than the Gospel: The Gospel plus Judaism.

Thus in Galatians 6:14-15 we see St. Paul proclaim: “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” St. Paul can boast in nothing but the Cross of Jesus - the pharisee of pharisees does not boast in his judaism par excellence, his circumcision on the 8th day, his academic career under Gamaliel, nor  his zeal for Torah. No, he glories in Jesus’ Cross in which his entire world has been crucified - leaving nothing but the New Creation of Jesus Christ.

Paul then assures his readers with this Hope and challenges the claims of his opponents in V. 16, “and those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” The “rule” here is the principle of Christ alone, without circumcision,  which he just expounded upon - to those who follow the teaching of the Cross of Christ - Peace and Mercy will be upon them and upon the Israel of God. Now you might see the phrase “Israel of God” and think of Israel according to the flesh - but this is not what Paul is saying, rather he is saying “those who boast in Jesus Christ” are indeed the Israel of God, not those who have forsaken the Messiah by adding to the Gospel nor those who rejected the Messiah outright. St. Paul, is not worried about Jewish ethnicity or religion, rather, he claims those who are in Messiah Jesus are the true Israel.

Then in v.17 St. Paul lays down one further trump card against his opponents -those  who try to force Christianity plus Judaism - “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” Former Bishop of Gloucester notes, “He will not dally with these vexatious attacks upon himself and his authority any more. He dismisses them with an appeal which ought to be final. He points to the scars of wounds which he had received in his Master's service. The branding-irons of Christ, he says, have imprinted these upon me. They show that I, like the slaves of a heathen temple, am devoted and consecrated to His service. They are my credentials, and I shall produce no others. My assailants must leave me in peace.” (C.J. Ellicott)  While the Judaizers glory in their circumcision, St. Paul glories in his stigmata - his wounds he has received in the imitation of Christ.


In our Gospel today, we read, “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.” St. Paul is saying the same thing in Galatians. There are not multiple ways to God, there is only one way, through the cross of Jesus Christ. Therefore, don’t be anxious, nor persuaded by other philosophies, religions, world views, hold on to Jesus, and his grace and mercy will be upon you. Hold fast to Jesus, even in the face of persecution...he loves and died for you. He will see you through the darkest hour. As our blessed Lord commanded, “But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Amen.

Rise Up, Go Thy Way, Thy Faith Hath Saved Thee

The fourteenth Sunday After Trinity

In the Gospel appointed for the 14th Sunday in Trinity-Tide, we encounter Jesus and his disciples traveling between the territories of Samaria and the Galilee, on their way to Jerusalem. Ten lepers standing far from the mainstream flow of traffic due to their ‘unclean’ and terribly diseased state, begin calling after Jesus. With hoarse voices they shout as loud as their leper-ridden throats will allow, “Jesus, Master, have mercy upon us.”

With great compassion and mercy Jesus tells them to go and show themselves to the Priests, thereby assuming that as they were going, they would somehow be cured of their leprosy and rid of the plague which rendered them a community unto themselves: a community of the ‘unclean’.

And as the ten departed they were miraculously healed, cured from head to toe, no longer unclean but clean. “And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice, glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving thanks: and he was a Samaritan." Ten healed but only one returned, and he, a Samaritan... an outsider. From a redemptive-historical perspective we see a picture of Israel’s rejection of her Messiah (nine Israelites received the mercy of God and yet did not glorify Him) and, how the saving work of Christ would go beyond Israel into the nations (but one a Samaritan returned!), as God promised to the prophet Hosea,

“I will have mercy upon her that had not obtained mercy; and I will say to them which were not my people, Thou art my people; and they shall say, Thou art my God.”

Here is a picture of two very different responses to God’s healing salvation. The nine are like so many consumers who come to Christ and his church to get what they need without any sense of gratitude or duty to the One from whom they have received their healing. They are the very picture of ingratitude: “Where are the other nine?” Jesus asks. Why are they not praising God? Where is their recognition of the gracious healing they have received from Jesus? Surely they were as capable as the Samaritan to express gratitude? Yes. But, consumerism knows no gratitude. And, even when the consumer is temporally satiated, his self-focused religion breeds nothing but ingratitude.

The Samaritan Leper however does not content himself with merely having received such great benefits. He (unlike the nine) will also praise this most Holy Benefactor. For he is the very picture of gratitude, the one who has received from God that which he could not do for himself; not only his body made clean but his soul washed as well; receiving divine medicine for the forgiveness of sins. For the Lord Jesus says to the man at his feet,

“Rise up, go thy way, thy faith hath saved thee...”

Jesus cured ten people sick with leprosy, a sickness in that time considered a contagious impurity requiring a rite of purification. In reality, the leprosy that truly disfigures is the sin which lurks within the mind, the will, and the heart; for pride and egotism give birth in the spirit to unholy indifference. Only Jesus Christ, who is Love, can cure this leprosy of the soul, which makes lepers of us all, disfiguring the face of our humanity. It is only by opening the heart to God, being open to His ministry within us, that the unclean person is healed interiorly of wickedness and sin.

But note: It is faith which saves us. The healing of salvation is a gift that even if it comes through people or nature, in the end, comes wholly and completely from God. Saving faith demands an openness towards Christ, being open to his gracious activity. All is gift and all is grace. The healing mercy of the Lord restored the leper to what he was first created to be: Homo Adorans, the worshiping man.

St. Luke writes, "he returned and with full voice, praised Christ loudly." This former leper who, after he had first with hoarse voice desperately called on the Redeemer, immediately returns after his healing in order with loud voice to give God the glory! Christ redeems us to re-make us into what we were always meant to be, worshippers: giving thanks to God for our healing, our restoration, and the newness of the resurrected life! And be assured, genuine gratitude is always met with grace... always.

Beloved, we have come into the Lord’s house today as lepers in need of healing, the unclean in desperate need of being made clean once again. And we find this healing in receiving the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, here at his altar. For in these great and holy mysteries we receive all of the goodness, kindness, and mercy of God by eating of these divine mysteries.

And like the leper, we too are unworthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under His table. Yet, by eating the flesh of Jesus Christ our sinful bodies are made clean, and our souls are washed through his most precious blood. In partaking of the Lord's Supper we not only remember the gift of salvation, but participate in the very life of our Savior Jesus Christ, the Life of the world renewing and sustaining us as heaven and earth collide and we enjoy such wonderful and mysterious union with our Lord.

And what great thing does He ask, in requiring us to be thankful in return for such tender care? Fidelity, Devotion, and Obedience. Therefore, let us then obey Him, and in every place and in all aspects of our lives continually do all things unto his glory. So with all sincerity of heart, let us prepare ourselves to receive this Divine healing, and with the hope of eternal life, let us take this Life into the world, to those who stand a far, that they might not only receive the saving mercy of Christ, but come and worship the living God who gave himself for the Life of the world. Amen.

Feast of the Transfiguration

A MEDITATION ON THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

“After six days Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” Jesus took his disciples up a high mountain. Now there are many places in Scripture, geographic locations, where the most interesting and significant events occur. Like the sea, where the Gospels record Jesus having walked upon the water. Or in the wilderness, the barren landscape where Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights being tempted by the Devil who in an instance, somehow transports Christ to the top of the temple and the next minute, shows Him all the nations of the world in a single glance. So many incredible events throughout redemptive history are connected to these places and also to mountains.

It was upon a mountain that Noah and his family stepped upon dry ground after the flood waters subdued. It was upon a mountain that Abraham’s knife was stayed by God delivering Isaac by mysteriously providing a sacrificial ram caught in the thicket. It was upon a mountain where four hundred priest of Baal, were gloriously defeated by Elijah. And, it was upon a mountain where God spoke to Moses in a burning bush, a bush that mysteriously withstood being consumed by the fire within it. Mystery and mountains. Mountains… so very often, the place of God’s mysterious work.

Jesus brought Peter, James and john “up into an high mountain apart, and was transfigured before them: and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” In contemplating this feast of the Transfiguration- meditating on what it means to us biblically and theologically- we must acknowledge that we are entering into profound mystery. Mystery because in this account we come face to face with the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ- the mystery of his being fully man and fully God.

And, at the top of the mountain, we encounter the manifestation and revelation of Christ’s Glory, the shekinah glory of God. The revelation of Christ’s divinity and the transfiguration of his body: the mystery of the incarnation on full display- magnificent, powerful, and yes, mysterious. Though we may see ‘dimly’ we can by the Holy Spirit, begin to understand the significance of the Transfiguration event. I want to share three insights as we prepare to ascend the mountain of God entering into the glory of Jesus, revealed in the mystery of the Eucharist.

First, the Transfiguration reveals the divine glory of Christ. The Transfiguration signified the long awaited return of God’s glory to Israel- to his creation- in the person of Christ. The transfiguration marks an important stage in the revelation of Jesus as the Christ and the Son of God. St. John tells us that Christ’s life was a manifestation of the divine glory, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.”  

On the mountain, his glory is revealed...signifying the divine and royal presence, for the kingdom of God is truly in the midst of God’s people. Like St. Peter, we are not following a god made of “cunningly devised fables” but following the Light of Light, the very God of very God: Jesus Christ.

Second, the Transfiguration directs the worship of the Church. In the Transfiguration we see Moses and Elijah glorified on the mountain speaking with Christ, a clear picture of the Law and the Prophets agreeing with the Son, both converging in the embodiment of the Son. What the Law and Prophets have said is now understood in the person and work of the Son of God, Jesus Christ; he is the fullest and clearest revelation of the Father’s will and purpose to redeem a people for himself AND to usher in the salvation of the world. True Yahweh worship no longer occurs in the Temple BUT in the person of Christ. To worship in spirit in truth is to worship in Christ. The Transfiguration places the worship of the Church in Christ, our participating in Him, fulfilling the Commandments of God by the Spirit AND NOT by the letter.

Third, the Transfiguration gives hope to the Church. The glorification of Christ on Mt. Tabor reveals the truth about who Jesus is and what the Christian will one day become through participation in Him. We too will one day become as he is. We too will be transfigured, as the Lord Himself was transfigured, when our redemption is complete in the Resurrection of the Body. Then, we will forever be with Him in the new heaven and the new earth: in a transformed creation. This is a glorious truth! This promised hope, pictured in the Transfiguration, is our sure reassurance of what will be inherited at end of the age AND the consummation of all things.

Finally, if we desire to see Christ’s glory, we must do as the Disciples did. They went up into a high mountain apart. We also must try and get above this world, apart by ourselves, at a distance from the troubles and cares of the earth, “ASCEND THE MOUNTAIN” and fix our hearts on that heavenly land where Jesus now is. And yet, we must also DESCEND from the mountain as the Apostles did. But having encountered the glorious hope of Christ at the peak we now walk through the trials, tribulations, and valleys of this life with a strong and sure hope: beholding in our hearts a vision of what lies at the end of the road, our glorification and an eternity, basking in the glorious light of Christ. Amen