We Have No Power

SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT

People desire power. And power, is a force that needs an object: to have power, a person has to have it over something, or someone. This is the common understanding of why power is so appealing to us— to be able to control things, to change them to fit into our vision of reality. The more power, the more influence. The more influence, the more others conform to our desires. But I would like to propose an equally strong motivation for why we desire power. Yes, we desire power to control… but not necessarily to control others…  what we are truly looking to control is ourselves. The allure of self-mastery and self-rule, to “the master of my fate and the captain of my soul.” Within the  desire for power lay a desire to perfect ourselves, overcome moral trials, and justify self by our own means and for our own glory.

But, personal history most likely presents a ton of evidence which testifies  to our absolute incompetence and utter inability; but we honestly come by this weakness. Think of the Garden of Eden. The serpent put forth a proposition to the woman that she simply could not resist (and neither could her husband), And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof [of the tree of knowledge], then you eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

You will be as gods, with all their knowledge and power. You will be a god unto yourself. This inward desire resided in a physical object, a tangible created thing: fruit. The temptation of the promise of power which the woman and the man inwardly desired was visibly attractive as well, And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. The temptation to transgress God’s commandment and willfully sin came through the physical sense of sight, it was pleasant to the eyes and so very desirable. The deceiver stirred the internal thought life which could not control the appetite of the flesh. he took the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.

At a minimum, Adam and Eve desired equality with God; perhaps, even desired to rule as god (the history of humanity certainly makes a strong case!) The first ‘power struggle’ between humanity and their creator in recorded history. But as important, Genesis chapter three records the first power struggle within the self, between flesh and the spirit, between the lust of the eyes and desires of the heart. The result: alienation and autonomy… a deadly autonomy. They were separated from God; separated from each other; from the animals and from the very creation itself. The man alone. The woman alone. Naked in the world, vulnerable to the dangers of external threats, and inwardly, suffering from guilt and shame.

We moderns live in the age of ‘psychology’ which is quick to assign  moral struggles and personal battles naively to the inward land of the psyche; or the heart. Our confused meta-physic has either disregarded or ignored the real dangers associated with the senses, from created things that catch the eye, or please the palate. Perhaps latent gnosticism renders the physical, the sensual, the allures of the flesh to the land of inconsequence. But Christianity understands the senses to be the windows and doors by which unholy desire and concupiscence within the soul bears the fruit of vice. We don’t simply have ‘bad hearts’, we also have a body, with its own insatiable desires and needs. We are susceptible, says our Prayer Book to temptations from the Devil, the world AND the flesh. St. Paul was a man who clearly understood this, For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would (Gal 5:17).

And so the Apostle in his epistle today exhorts us with a solemn warning against the sins of the flesh, a frequent warning he gives in almost everyone of his New Testament epistles. “We exhort you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.” What loving earnestness we find in his opening words--he beseeches, he exhorts as speaking in the Name and by the authority of the Lord Jesus who calls his disciples unto holiness and purity of life. In fact, Jesus himself teaches us to do so with everything we have and at whatever the cost,

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Mt 5:28-29).

Now, Jesus isn’t literally telling us to disfigure ourselves but he is making a strong statement on just how serious and the measures we should be willing to take in the battle against the flesh. For the world is full of good created things which in our fallen state we can so easily abuse, “"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” (1 Jn 2:16). In other words, created things in and of themselves aren’t necessarily the problem, it is the worldly residue of lust which lurks in the hearts of those being perfected. Therefore, we must never rest in the pursuit of holiness, but "abound more and more."

For to those who have received such a great salvation comes the command to walk (both in body and soul) in a manner which pleases the One who is the author of salvation: having been taught of Christ to pursue holiness we must never be put aside what we have learned. Now, from St. Paul’s epistle I would like to point out two important consequences from sensual sins. Turning again to our Epistle, verse two,

For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God...

Friends, our heavenly Father desires for His children to attain unto holiness:  as the Apostle says, “this is the will of God.” He lovingly desires to bring many sons and daughters into his heavenly abode, to dwell in the eternal mansion and feast at his table forever and ever. He will, therefore, give us the help we need to carry out His commands. As image-bearers, humanity reflects their creator as embodied souls, the soul inseparably dwelling in the form and beauty of the physical body, and this is not our own but is the property and artistry of its maker.

Therefore, each individual Christian is entrusted by God with his or her body as a "vessel" or instrument to be used for the Giver, and every individual must, therefore, learn how to "possess" or acquire mastery over that instrument, to keep it clean, to regard it with honour, and not debase it as Gentiles might who had never learned the intention of their Creator.  Sensual sins, in the first place, cause us to sin against our bodies is to sin against ourselves. This is the first consequence of sinning in the flesh, whereby stirring a tempest of guilt, shame, and self-loathing within the soul.

Continuing in verse six,

That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

First let us understand to what the Apostle is referring to when he write when we read “That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter.”  “he matter," (not “in any manner”) but ‘the manner’ of which he is speaking. S. Paul is not exhorting us against dishonesty, but showing that dishonesty is impurity. And he’s specifically talking about impure family relations, about being dishonest with brothers and sisters in the church. Dishonesty in the Christian oikos is a fraud on family life, a robbery of the peace and life of homes, and especially of Christian homes.  Our Lord and Master will avenge such dishonour done to the life of the family and of the Church. “It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones” (Luke 17:2).

And let us remember our Lord’s warning, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (Mt 25:45). Sensual sins--all the sins of the flesh, in thought, word, and deed--are the worst form of selfishness.  Hence our Divine Lord takes such earthly sins into His own hands. Here the words of the prophet Isaiah, “I will punish the world for their evil, and the wicked for their iniquity; and I will cause the arrogance of the proud to cease, and will lay low the haughtiness of the ruthless” (Isa 13:11). Sensual sins then, are not only sins against ourselves, but grievous sins unto others. We do not sin in a vacuum.

If we’re honest, we all too often try to live out the Christian life autonomously and independent; a law unto ourselves. This drift into autonomy, the movement away from God to self, is often accompanied by an acute case of delirium brought upon by the chief of all vices:  pride. Blinded by pride we are fooled, convinced that our power is all-sufficient… sufficient enough to live in this fallen world in perfect obedience to God. Pride says “I can love God with my whole self, yes, I can love others as Christ would have me, walk in righteousness and holiness, fend off the temptations of the flesh.” We fool ourselves into thinking, “yes, I can do all this apart from the power and protection of God.” Like swine wallowing in pearls, rejecting the word of the Lord who declares, you will not succeed by might, nor by your power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.

Beloved, here is the truth: we simply do not innately possess the power necessary to protect our bodies and souls from the ravages and temptations of the eyes and the enticements of the senses. As we revel in self-reliance and autonomy (and I’m speaking of the Christian) we are as vulnerable as Eve and susceptible as Adam. The fool says in his heart, there is no God. He also is a fool who doesn’t acknowledge the reality of our Adversary, the Devil, who desires to destroy us. In the words of Martin Luther, we dwell in a fallen world, where the prince is an evil spirit and has the hearts of men in his power, doing what he will. The deceiver often begins his wicked work through God’s good creations, tantalizing our desires and appetites.

Lent calls us to a new level of sobriety. We simply do not have any power of ourselves to help ourselves. This is what we just admitted to God and to one another a few minutes ago in praying the Collect appointed for this 2nd Sunday in Lent. it is a sobering prayer, and to varying degrees, if we’re honest, it’s devastating; flying in the face of secular optimism and the triumphalism of modernity. Are we really to believe that We have no power to help ourselves??? No. We do not. We have no natural or innate power of our own to fend off the assaults of sensual temptation. We have no power to “keep ourselves unharmed both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls.”

Left to our own strength we are overrun by any and all external adversities and all to often will succumb to “evil thoughts that assault and hurt” the soul. In a one-on-one power struggle with the flesh... friends, we lose. And this is why we plead, by prayer and supplication, for Jesus Christ to exert his mighty power and defend us from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul. Our very weakness and defenselessness is our plea.  We have "no power of ourselves to help ourselves," but Christ, who knows us so very intimately, knows our weakness, sees and not only prays continually at the heavenly altar for the church, but is our sure and powerful defense in times of trial. Do not discount the power of prayer for he to whom we plead is greater than the world and all its temptations.

Apart from the power and protection of Christ, our ability to prevail against such assaults without the aid of Him by Whom the Tempter was, and is overcome is fools game. We are utterly incapable of fending off the assaults of the world, the flesh, and the devil and therefore desperately need God to see and protect us. Like the Canaanite woman found in today’s Gospel reading who pleaded with Christ to be allowed to partake of the ‘children’s bread, but begged for the crumbs on the table, let us, with great humility, submit ourselves, our souls and bodies, under the mighty protection of Christ, who himself was tempted in the wilderness, and yet came out of His temptation without sin.

Only He can help us overcome the temptations of the flesh. Our hope is not in our own power but in Christ. Therefore, prepare yourselves, your souls and bodies to come to His table and strengthened in the inner man. Come to Him who is able to save to the uttermost all those who come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for us. Beloved come and enter into the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, for He alone is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen..

Rend Your Hearts

ASH WEDNESDAY

This evening begins, with the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, a 40-day Lenten journey that intends to lead us into the paschal mystery of the Easter triduum: Holy Week where we memorialize our Lord's passion, death, and resurrection. Ash Wednesday is the door through which we enter into the very heart of the mystery of salvation, a salvation which springs forth from the grips of death on Easter morning. But friends, night comes before the dawning of the morn; sorrow precedes joy; and death precedes life.

The lenten journey is one marked by death and dying, a six week exodus into the wilderness of the soul, forty days of sobriety, humility, and exercise of spiritual discipline: all with the intent of putting sin, vice, and uncleanness to death. “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” In just a moment, you will hear these words as the sign of the cross is made with ashes upon your forehead. Now we must realize that the outward sign of placing ashes upon the forehead is not simply a tradition of the church but is an ancient sign given to God’s people which has its roots in Holy Scripture. In the third chapter of Genesis God said to Adam “in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Gen 3:19).

Death came after the fall, the dust which God breathed His spirit into was not meant to return to dust, but live. The ashes then remind us of our mortality, our frailty, and this life of suffering. Thus the ashes represent our mortality and death as the result of sin; death from which no one shall escape.

From the book of Job we see that ashes not only represent mortality but also repentance. Having come face to face with his Creator and humbled before him, Job the priest of God cries “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear; but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” With dust and ashes he repents; an outward sign signifying the penitent and repentant disposition of his heart. Mortality and repentance.

I would like to add one more important aspect to the significance of the ashes: prayerful intercession. In the book of Daniel we see that ashes signify not only mortality and repentance but also the state of one who has entered into deep and sincere prayer for others. In the ninth chapter of the book of the prophet Daniel we find a repentant man sickened with concern not only for himself but for his fellow countrymen,

And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said… We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from thy precepts and from thy judgments…

And in verse fifteen he pleads for God to be merciful unto Israel, “O Lord, according to all thy righteousness, I beseech thee, let thine anger and thy fury be turned away from thy city Jerusalem, thy holy mountain: because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and thy people are become a reproach to all that are about us.”

He bows his ashen head and intercedes for the sins of God’s people. Likewise, by the imposition of ashes upon the forehead head, we are reminded of mortality, the need of repentance for sins, and of interceding for others. It tells us that the lenten journey is an intense uniting of prayer, fasting and supplication unto God. It is a journey of drawing closer to God by detaching ourselves from the pleasures of this world, in particular food, drink, and pleasures of the flesh. Unholy acts are displaced by classic Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

And although, by the imposition of ashes, mother Church calls us to an outward sign, ultimately what does she want inwardly? What does she desire? She wants not just the external sign, but the interior reality of penitence. “Rend your hearts, not your garments” cries the prophet! This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t want us to do the external sign, we’ve seen from scripture that he commands us to fasting, sackcloth, ashes and mourning. But what it does mean is that in addition to the external sign what God really wants is for us to tear open our hearts. To open our hearts in repentance from sin, to turn away from all that is defiling and unclean, and to return back to him. To not only return, but to love him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our strength.

Friends, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of returning unto our Lord. The call to repent and be healed has sounded to all who would hear. To every prodigal who has journeyed off into that far country, and there, squandered their father’s inheritance on the fleeting pleasures of this world.  Mother church in her wisdom is calling each and everyone of us to a solemn Lenten fast which begins today on Ash Wednesday.

Now, will you over this season of Lent, perform the spiritual disciplines perfectly? Will the committing of sins and wrestling with temptations cease? Well, we all know the answer: absolutely not. We will struggle along the Lenten road. It will challenge us. It will be fraught with perils and dangers of all kinds both from without and within. We will be as imperfection seeking perfection. Through these forty days in the wilderness will suffer failures and lapses in spiritual exercise (willful fasting and obedient prayer will not go unchallenged!).

This scheming world will do everything within its power to attract and lure us with bright shiny objects: we may long to once again eat from the swine trough of sin, may even go so far as to fill our bellies on the husks of vice. Some days will feel bone dry, parched, days of spiritual aridity which can and will come upon the soul.

Sanctification, particularly in the spiritual labors of Lent, is not a perfect process: putting sin to death, mastering the appetites and re-ordering our loves is neither easy nor comfortable. But it is the process by which we draw nearer and nearer to the Lord. It is the means by which we are made more and more like Christ. It is the way of the cross through which we enter into eternal life. But friends, let us not grow weary in doing good and let not the stumbles and frustrations from sin and human weakness harden the heart.

But let us trust the Lord in the desert, remembering that in the wilderness He shapes and prepares his people; makes them ready his to enter into that good land which lies just beyond the Jordan. And in our Lenten desert he will do the deep and mysterious work of preparing us to enter into the life, joy, and blessings of Easter.

And when he came to himself, he said I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.

The road to Easter begins tonight with repentance. And, it ends in the loving, compassionate and merciful arms of our God. Therefore humble yourselves before Him. Rend your heart and not your garments. Always trusting in the mercy of our Father who “hates nothing he has made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent.” Let us return to the God of all mercies whose very property is to be merciful. Amen.

The Fruit of Perfection

THE SUNDAY CALLED QUINQUAGESIMA

THEN Jesus took unto him the twelve, and said unto them, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem, and all things that are written by the prophets concerning the Son of Man shall be accomplished (Luke 18:31-33).

The time has come for the Lord to set his face towards Jerusalem. In his determination to journey to the cross every theme, metaphor, and emphasis of this pre-lenten season come together (coalesces). The journey to Jerusalem is a march towards sorrow and suffering; towards mocking and derision; a strenuous one beset by challenges of all sorts; internal and external opponents set upon defeating the Son of Man.

The time has come for the Lord to see his face towards Jerusalem. The place where he will drink the dregs of death "For he shall be delivered unto the Gentiles, and shall be mocked, and spitefully entreated, and spitted on: and they shall scourge him, and put him to death…” The One who calls his laborers into the vineyard will prove to be the perfect servant who obediently follows the master’s call to work. Not grumbling but with joy he gladly toils in the vineyard of sorrow called Golgotha.

He, the Sower of the Seed, is also the good soil, and in him an innumerable bounty of fruit is perfected through suffering; the cursed ground beneath his feet wetted with blood and water as it pours from his side. His broken body is laid into the earth, the heavenly grain of wheat, which goes into the ground and from it, springs the tree of life. "Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit” (John 12:24).

We should understand the Lenten Journey as following Jesus up to Jerusalem, for the time has come for us to die as well. Death to self; death to sin. But sin is not so easily overcome, and this we know. Joshua faced a great many battles, challenges, and se backs as he led Israel’s campaign to obliterate the seven wicked nations of whom God said,

When the LORD your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess, and He drives out before you many nations—seven nations larger and stronger than you— and when the LORD your God has delivered them over to you to defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy (Deuteronomy 7:1-2).

Through their actions these seven nations brought judgment upon themselves, and, God knew they would be a snare to his people, wicked agents who would cause Israel to stumble into vice and sin. Therefore, God’s people were to devote themselves to their merciless destruction. What needs to be destroyed in us is sin, impurity, and corruption. This is our Journey to Jerusalem, the Lenten labor we have often spoken of these past two weeks. Like the seven wicked nations embedded in the good land, the seven deadly sins of pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth must be destroyed. We are to ’sweep clean’ the house of the soul and not leave it barren, but fill it with the virtues of humility, charity, chastity, gratitude, temperance, patience, and diligence. Again, we are to fill the soul with good things for as Jesus warns,

When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its return, it finds the house swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and dwell there. And the final plight of that man is worse than the first (Matthew 12:43-45).

The picture I’m desiring to paint is this: Like Christ, it is time for us to follow him into the suffering and pain that awaits him in Jerusalem. Companions willingly to enter into suffering over sin, to submit pride to humility, and seek wholeness of the soul. For we know the way of Jerusalem is ultimately the way of the Cross, up to the Tree of death. And there, on the cross, we encounter both death and life, suffering and salvation, despair and hope. It is upon that wicked tree where Jesus puts sin to death, removes it sting, taking away the curse.

For “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”” (Galatians 3:13). Suffering precedes death and death precedes life. The glory and eternal hope of Easter morning rises only after the horrors of Friday. And what great wisdom the church in all her glory guides her children with; we leave the wonder and celebratory nature of Christmas and Epiphany-tide seasons of rejoicing in the great salvation that has come, and turn our gaze towards the reality of living out this salvation in a fallen world with all of its enticements and as unfinished works of grace who, in our imperfectness, strive by the guiding of the Holy Spirit, to become more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ, our sanctification unto perfectness.

For the way of the Cross is the way of perfection. On the tree of death died not only our Lord, but the sins of the whole world; yours and mine. And on that tree hung the very embodiment of love; the fruit of perfection. Friends, the fruit of perfection is love, there is nothing greater or surpassing, the only thing eternal. The writer of Hebrews tells us that it was through suffering that the Son was perfected. On that cursed tree hung perfect love for the whole world to see. And love is the fruit which is yielded from the good soil, from all honest and good hearts who with patience bring forth fruit with patience. We are sorely misguided if we believe our perfection will not come without soberly embracing dying: dying to self, dying to sin. If we desire to become the very love of Christ, then we too must embrace the way of the Cross with faith and hope.

Faith must be immersed in the knowledge of the great love with which our heavenly Father has loved us in Christ, the Father who,

hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace (Ephesians 1:3-9).

Praised be to God! We must believe that we are loved, and in this find confidence and the assurance of hope. For,

If God be for us, who can be against us? “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. 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 (Romans 8:29-31)

To us is given the charisms of faith, hope, and love, and it is by loving in this world that we escape the coming judgment of the world. “God is love; whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. In this way,” writes St. John, “love has been perfected among us, so that we may confidence on the day of judgment; for in this world we are just like him” (1 John 4:16-17). And how are we in this world just like him? Love.

We might be thinking of Lent as hard, cold, and unattractive, entering into it without any special object, thinking of it as merely an inconvenient season of increased formalities and superficial exercise.  All this emphasis of the church upon sobriety, penitence, and humility is off-putting to the calloused and prideful soul. Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving for the purification of the soul appear overly rigorous and unnecessary. If we’re not clear on where the journey to Jerusalem ends then one will wander without purpose over these next four weeks, or in more hardened cases, exit the road all together. But the church teaches that Lent is a season into which love should be the entrance, of which love should be the spirit, and in which the increase of love should be our great object. Thus, will the season be one which God shall most certainly bless, being Himself the God of Love, for the object of Lent is the object of life realized in the risen Christ, even so to possess and be possessed by love as to be fitted for a share in the glorification of love when God shall be all and in all.

If love be not the impetus compelling us unto Jerusalem, then Lent will profit us nothing. In fact, without love we are nothing. Your religion apart from love is nothing. All the spiritual gifts given unto you profiteth nothing. Your knowledge, even your great measure of faith itself is nothing. All the selflessness, sacrificial acts, and giving to the poor have no eternal benefit without love. Even in martyrdom you are nothing if and have not love. All mortification is nothing if we not be love. In other words, love is the chief produce of our Lenten labor.

Love is the sure evidence of our sanctification. According to St. Paul love is greater than faith and hope, for the more richly love dwells in a man, the better the man in whom it dwells. For when we ask whether someone is a good man, we are not asking what he believes, or hopes, but what he loves. St. Augustine says that,

he who loves aright believes and hopes rightly. Likewise, he who does not love believes in vain, even if what he believes is true; he hopes in vain, even if what he hopes for is generally agreed to pertain to true happiness, unless he believes and hopes for this: that he may through prayer obtain the gift of love- St. Augustine

Through prayer, through fasting, through the disciplines and the putting away of sin we grow in charity, edging closer and closer to true happiness. Because the exercise of love brings us closer and closer to love himself, Jesus Christ. Let us therefore remember what we have heard, it is the thorns and thistles of this world which choke out love, the pursuit of lesser loves which displace the God of Love. We become what we love and thereby must order the loves rightly. To enter into the spirituality of Lent without love as its object will profiteth us nothing if our true and burning desire is to attain union with Christ himself; to love and to be loved.

Beloved, the labor of love, the ups and downs, the twists and turns are not without their reward, for St Paul says to those who pursue love as the chief goal of the Christian life, "now we see through a glass darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Friends the lover will be known by the beloved. Yes, love brings to us the full knowledge of God. But more importantly, love will be known by God. To be fully known, fully uncovered, unashamedly naked before our creator and not rejected, not laughed at or disregarded, but known and loved as a child loved by a mother, or a wayward son who seeing his father runs into his merciful and loving arms. Finally, home, finally loved, finally complete.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (1 John 4:7-11).

The journey up to Jerusalem begins and ends in love: the great love of God towards us displayed in the death of his Son upon a cross. There, the tree of death becomes the tree of life. Let us then pursue love, setting our sights firmly on He who first loved us for. Christ is why we love, how we love, and the reward of all our labor. “Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three: but the greatest of these is love.” Amen.

The Good Soil

THE SUNDAY CALLED SEXAGESIMA

We rejoice this morning as those who have been called by God to labor in his vineyard, to do good works befitting of heavenly citizens. The church in her wisdom has provided these three pre-lenten ‘gesima’ Sundays to prepare us for the rigor of Lent. Our fight is spiritual, fought against the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is a battle to defeat sin and vice, to take the high ground of holiness and virtue.

Last Sunday, St. Paul explained this battle in athletic terms, likening the Christian struggle for holiness to a marathon. The prize: an incorruptible crown which is eternal life, that great salvation accomplished by Jesus Christ, the prodigious prize awarded to all who cross the finish line. The Apostle tells us that self-mastery and self-discipline along with the virtue of temperance must be the steady diet and routine for any serious and qualified competitor,  “But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (2 Cor 9:27).

But Jesus himself provides the prevailing metaphor of laboring in his vineyard, where in we understand the Christian as the one who has heard the Gospel call to labor unto holiness, “Be ye therefore perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect”. The free grace of salvation is not without its enjoined call into the Master’s vineyard to do the good works which he has prepared for us to walk in.

On this Quinquagesima Sunday we laborers are being called to bear fruit in this world amidst its temptations and challenges. With patient fortitude we are to bring forth a bountiful yield. And what fruit does the master of the field desire? Is it not ultimately charity? Is not love the fruit of the kingdom? Love of God and love of neighbor… is this not the final goal of all spiritual striving and self-mastery? “For the fruit of the spirit is love…” Says St. Paul. There is no greater calling, no surpassing vocation, then to love as Christ loves; the fruit of perfection is love; it is the goal of all Christian piety.

It is the good soil which brings forth fruit. This Jesus teaches once again, through a parable, perhaps one of the most well known of his parables: the Parable of the Sower. One might be tempted to rename it ‘the parable of the soils’. For his great concern is that the good seed of the gospel finds the good ground, fertile soil where it can take root and bring fruit to perfection, yielding some thirty, some sixty, and some hundred-fold!

Jesus is, as we sang, “the Sower who has come from afar”, who generously casts seed throughout the field of the world. The One who has called us into his vineyard is also the Sower of the seed which is the good news of the Gospel, the salvific word spoken in these last days. The seed represents the revelation of God in Christ, the incarnate logos who was manifested to Jew and Gentile alike, the promised Messiah who came to save all men: those called in the morning and at the eleventh hour. He was no stranger, but came as the true light and life, he of whom the Apostles heard, and saw, whom they looked upon and handled with their hands (1 John 1.1). This blessed sower generously casts the seed of the Gospel upon every type of soil without regard or scrutiny, “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4).

Now, the various soils in which the seed lands illustrate the effect the seed has on the various hearts and minds of those who receive it. The parable is frighteningly explicit in that the seed often has little or no lasting effect. For of the four soils in the parable, three are bad, and only one is good.  Non will inherit the Kingdom of God, unless they be the good ground. But the Sower is generous. Our Lord and Savior still sows His seed, and still gives the opportunity to a man to accept Him and to follow His commandments.

First, there is the soil on the Wayside. These are bystanders who overhear the word but are not directly engaged in its reception. This seed, Jesus says, “is trampled down, and the birds of the air devour it.” Next is the Rocky Soil. This is shallow soil in which no lasting roots can be established. Without moisture the germinating seed withers and dies. Jesus speaks of the third one as the Thorny Soil.  This seed takes root but is finally overcome by the thorns and thistles, it is choked out and dies.

“But some fell on Good Ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.” The good ground, Jesus explains, “are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.”  The good soil is that which having received the seed, nurtures it to do what it is meant to do: to abundantly yield fruit. The Sower desires success, he wants the seed of the Gospel to bring forth the fruit of righteousness, or put another way, his laborers are not to work in vain: they shall produce.

Productive soil is of an honest and good heart. It is of a moral quality and integrity that consciously chooses the way of Christ. And here we come face to face with the importance of self-mastery, of temperance, of putting sin and the vice of concupiscence to death: to walk according to the calling we have received, in righteousness and holiness all the days of our lives. No longer under the enslavement of sin but as slaves of righteousness,

“Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

This is why we strive to bring the body under subjection and every thought captive, actively and willingly being conformed to Christ that we might one day be with him, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” The Good ground is tilled and carefully cultivated, clods of dirt have been broken up, and it has been finely sifted, watered, and hedged roundabout to keep the pests out.  It is guarded so nothing can steal the fruits it will produce. There is effort involved in preparing good ground. It doesn’t just "happen" on its own. Fruitful seed growing takes attention, care, and concern.

Next, Jesus says that the good ground is that which holds fast to the word. The seed remains in the good soil, it is neither trampled, nor does it wither, or choked out by thorns and thistles, but it remains, it abides, its roots run deep, “like a tree planted by the water-side, that will bring forth its fruit in due season.” The good soil ‘clings to the word’ forever wedded to the power and promise of the Gospel. Good and beautiful are the souls that take deeply into themselves the seeds of the Word, and keep them, and tend them with care. They are rich and fruitful soil who yield fruit an hundredfold.

Friends, the word must live in us and us in it. We must abide in Christ who is the very true word, the word of life to all who believe, the very water which brings forth the fruit of the kingdom, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.” Christ alone is good and in him we participate in divine goodness, bear perfect fruit, and inherit the kingdom heaven. So says the Lord, “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

Lastly, in describing the good soil, Jesus says that it “brings forth fruit with patience.” Note the obvious: good soil actually produces fruit; it is productive. But more importantly, it does so “with patience.” Within the good soil is the grace of fortitude, with patience it bears fruit. Here St. Luke uses the greek word, ὑπομονή, patience, which is more fully understood as, endurance, fortitude, steadfastness, perseverance, or patient endurance. The Lord calls his laborers to embrace the virtue of fortitude, which is the capacity to hold out or bear up in the face of difficulty. Not only are we to ‘cling’ and ‘hold fast’ to the seed but we are to bear up under the allure and enticements of the devil, the world, and the flesh. And our Lord Jesus, in explaining this very parable, forewarns us as he explains why the others soils fail to produce.

Those on the wayside are they that hear; but then comes the devil (the birds of the air come and pluck the seed), He takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. The Devil snatches the seed of the good news of Jesus Christ from the heart. Craftily he does he work, often disguising himself as an angel of light, through attractive and shiny things, but always with lies, “for he is the father of lies” and in him resides not life, but death. His sole purpose “to kill, steal, and destroy.” Listen to one who was very aware of the Devil’s schemes,

“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: Whom resist steadfast in the faith…”

Let us pray for the grace of fortitude, that by humility, sobriety, and vigilance, we may resist the malicious schemes of the enemy.

Not only the Devil but the temptations and trials of the world can wither and kill our fruit bearing. They on the rock are they which, when they hear, receive the word with joy, says Jesus,  and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. Shallow soil is so very susceptible to times of trial and hardship, whether from within or from without. When persecution of all kinds come upon the Rocky soil, it is incapable of enduring and holding fast because the roots of faith are not deep, like the house built on sand it crumbles in the face of the storm. St. Paul was a man familiar with persecution which he suffered at the hand of his fellow countrymen, bore the pain of the Roman cane, was robbed as he traveled, and stoned by mobs.

He suffered at the cruel hand of nature, shipwrecked, spending days lost at sea, overcome by floods and all sorts of natural calamities. He was not only tormented by men and nature but within his very soul, suffering daily for the church,  writing “besides those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches” Just imagine the incredible burden of concerns and worries he carried for every single church, for every single believer. “Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not? He’s in anguish, burning for every weak believer who is or has been led astray, sharing in their stumbling as their faithful shepherd.

Speaking as the fool speaks, Paul boasts to the Corinthians of his many trials. And why? Is he boasting to show how brave and wonderful he is? No! And this is the key to patient endurance, Paul is not boasting in himself (as the false Apostles were doing in Corinth), but of how great and wonderful the grace of God is that sustains him in his weakness! Patience, fortitude, humility, every virtue is a work of grace, it is in Christ that we are strong, in Christ (or in clinging to him) we endure.

“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities.” Fellow laborers, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” When by the grace of God you overcome and endure give thanks to God: “Of such a one will I boast” says the Apostle, “yet of myself I will not boast, but in my weaknesses.”

Finally, we must resist the temptations of the flesh. “And that which fell among thorns are they which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares, and riches, and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection.” If we are going to bring forth the fruit of perfection we must not give into worldly temptations of busyness and material possession, nor be overcome by their concerns: for these choke the seed to death. Ease, comfort, gain, possession, accomplishment, more and more… all good things in moderation and in the context of their temporal value.

But when the desire for attainment eclipses the desire for Christ, the very vine which feeds and nourishes the branches of the tree are choked. We must endure under the never-ending attraction and allure of this world and what it offers, keeping created things in their rightful place subordinated under Christ from whom all good things come. Let us not confuse the gifts with the giver and Lord, let us not be as him who gains the whole world but loses his soul.

Christ is in the good soil and the good soil is in Christ, the seed embedded in the earthly soil of the heart where, when cultivated, guarded, and nourished produces the perfect fruit of righteousness: a yield which comes by patient fortitude. St. James says, “patience hath a perfect work; that you may be perfect and entire, failing in nothing.” (James 1:4).

Our growth in holiness is nothing more (or less) than the exercise of patience under adversity for the love of God. Virtue is tested by people and by the daily circumstances of life. When, for the love of God, we meet these challenges and adversities with patience and meekness, we grow in holiness. The motivation of the good soil, that which is the desire of the honest and good heart, is the love of God, and, also, the love of neighbor. It is this “purity of intention,” which most evidences the supernatural grace of God, the grace of the Gospel,  which infuses the soil of the heart. For it is grace that takes the cursed ground of disobedience and restore it to Eden, the place of our participation in the life of God through Jesus Christ.

Let us therefore without ceasing hold fast by our hope and by the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ who “took up our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him. Let us therefore become imitators of His endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person, and this we believe: Christ is our strength, let us boast in him. Amen.

Run That You May Obtain

THE SUNDAY CALLED SEPTUAGESIMA

There is absolutely nothing static about the Christian life and this is because the Lord of time, the author of existence, has chosen to set history in motion with a beginning, a present, and a future. Time is not abstracted reality but grounded in the Logos, in the Divine wisdom and reason of God, therefore, time has intention and purpose. Every passing moment is filled with meaning and significance. The Lord of time ordains, sustains, and speaks through each moment.

He has gifted his image bearers (those who experience time) with memory, an ability to recollect moments gone by. At any given time the mind can return to the past, inhabiting and reliving a god-painted sunrise, a lovers embrace, a time of sorrow, or past joys. In the same way, we inhabit the future, projecting ourselves into an idealized vision of an occasion that will but has not yet occurred. God has given the capacity (although limited) to simultaneously exist in the past, present, and the future.

We find security in memories because they are historical events, things that actually happened. Even when time begins to erode the facts just a bit, we are assured that what we are remembering did actually happen. But the future operates differently.  projections of the imagination fall under the categories of desire and hope for’s I can see in the mind’s eye a future moment: my wife and I are well into our years, the Thanksgiving table surrounded by grandchildren, their parents trying to keep their little hands out of the mashed potatoes or from stealing another dinner roll… something which hasn’t yet occurred seem so real...

Future hopes and dreams come without any guarantee of ever coming to fruition; they are the deepest longings of the heart but time bears out all things. And yet, not every future event of the imagination is a mere pipe dream. For to the Christian has been given a vision of future hope, a sure and promised hope of eternal life, forever united with Christ who is the eternal light which lights up the cosmos, the tree which forever feeds and nourishes the nations. The hope of Christian salvation is a future reality awaiting every faithful person. It is the incorruptible prize awarded to those who “fight  a good fight, who finish their course, who keep the faith” (2 Tim 4:7). This is no dream nor mere fantasy, but a sure and future reality for all who persevere in faithfulness: for as the writer of Hebrews proclaims, “he that has promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23).

In this mornings Gospel the householder calls his servants to “go into his vineyard” for it is time to labor in the kingdom. We are compelled by the salvific grace of Epiphany to take up our Lenten labor. The disciplines and spiritual work of Lent, our ‘striving’, is to take hold of that which has taken hold of us by putting sin to death, the sin which besets and impedes the path to Christ. Epiphany grace will now be evidenced by good works: by producing the fruit of kingdom; fruit in keeping with repentance which is the fruit of righteousness born of self-denial and self-discipline. With great resolve, let us determine to master the moral life.

The moral life should be of great concern to every Christian who longs for the beatific vision, for “blessed is the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The pursuit of holiness the prime directive for every child who desires to please his father, “if you love me keep my commandments.” Therefore we strive (to use the Apostles term), we work for holiness. Now some may recoil at the idea of “work” in relation to anything pertaining to the Christian life. But let us not be deceived, with baptism comes duties and responsibilities. With the gospel call comes the works of the kingdom.

Beloved, let us not be fooled by any who make much of the free grace of the Gospel but deny that any work is enjoined to it! Yes, we must have grace BEFORE work in order TO work! But as surely as grace is conferred on us, so surely is a work enjoined by our Lord. I refer you to the beautiful sermon he preached on the Mount of Beatitude by first blessing/gracing his hearers before giving them commands: “blessed are those, blessed are you…” Only after blessing does he then command them to, o and reconcile with your brother before going to worship; do not commit adultery, in fact, don’t even lust after another in your heart… when you fast do this, and when you pray, pray in this way, etc… Grace always precedes the work of the kingdom.

These peddlers of falsity teach that works were only required under the Law, and grace comes instead under the Gospel: but the true account of the matter is this, that yes, the Law enjoined works, but the grace of the Gospel fulfills them; the Law commanded, but gave no power; the Gospel bestows the power. Thus the Gospel is the counterpart of the Law. Christ says, "I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill." The Gospel does not abrogate works, but provides for them. "Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour" from the morning of the world to its evening. From Adam in paradise, Noah in the morning, Abraham at the third hour, chosen Israel at the sixth and ninth, and us Christians at the eleventh—all, so far as the duty of work, we share in one common religion.

And thus, says St. Paul, "Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid! Yea, we establish the law" (Rm 3.31). Again, he the Apostle tells  us, "that as sin hath reigned unto death, even so" grace reigns "through righteousness," not without righteousness, "unto eternal life." And again, "The righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit." And to the Ephesians, "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph. 2. 10). And to the Philippians, "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" (Phil. ii. 12, 13).

Do we by our works earn salvation? Do we earn any merit or favor with God? No! The grace of God appeared in Jesus Christ and by grace we are saved through faith; in Him we rejoice! But a view of grace that is received without any response or duty on our part is incomplete and unscriptural. Faith is evidenced by its works, manifested through a life in pursuit of holiness, goodness, and faithfulness; the necessary and preparatory work for all who will receive the risen Lord of Easter.

And, at the same time, a holy life serves as a witness to a corrupt and dying world the sure hope of redemption to all who believe and follow the commandments of God. Therefore let us listen to the Apostle Paul who victoriously ran that ‘heaven-ward’ race, persuaded on to works of penitence and holy mortification that we may obtaining an everlasting crown.

Through a metaphor, Paul likens the Christian life to that of a race, with a beginning and end; a race that will have victors and losers; some will finish and some will not; either from lack of endurance or by disqualification. And what we see is his holy intention to win the prize which is an ‘incorruptible crown’. Now this incorruptible crown spoken of by the blessed apostle is none other than eternal life, the great prize awarded to faithfulness, fidelity, and perseverance.

St. Paul writes, “Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize?” We must ‘run’ as though only one will obtain the prize. In other words, we are to compete at the highest possible level, give it our all, run with the intention of winning. For the crown of everlasting life is obtainable by all who would run. And this we learn from the Parable of the Vineyard: whether called at the first or the eleventh hour, every laborer receives an equal wage. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” There is equality in Christ. And this is a most important point of emphasis: God esteems not the diversity or duration of our labor, but he does have respect unto faith. St Augustine says,

a poor man which doth his business in faith, is as acceptable unto God, and has as good a right to the death and merits of Christ, as the greatest man in the world. So go through all estates: whosoever applieth his business with faith, considering that God willeth him so to do, surely the same is most beloved of God.

In that hire then shall we all be equal, and the first as the last, and the last as the first; because that denarius is life eternal, and in the life eternal all will be equal. For although through diversity of attainments the saints will shine, some more, some less; yet as to this respect, the gift of eternal life, it will be equal to all. Or in the word of St. Paul “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). However, mere running on the course does not ensure the prize, simply being in the company of those striving for the crown does not ensure its attainment. And so let us “Run, that we may obtain.”

Friends, if we are to compete well for the faith then we need to cultivate virtue of temperance. “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things.”  For if all of the virtues ultimately serve humility, than temperance is the much needed governor of vice. Temperance brings ease to self-mastery and joy in leading the morally good life. It enables the virtuous man to freely practice the good. The mastery over sin, concupiscence, and vice will not occur without temperance.

This moral virtue moderates our unholy attractions and godless pleasures and helps balance our use of God’s created goods. It ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable, right, and good. By it we maintain a healthy discretion. We should heed the exhortation of St. Paul to the young Bishop Titus: that we should "live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world” (Titus 2:12).

“So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.” Whoever would run the race of holiness must practice self-control and continence in all things; far from sensual indulgences; eating and drinking in a manner conducive to the prize in view; mindful to not become so engulfed by the business and pursuits of this life but rather, exercising himself, at all times, for the one end to which he is devoted: through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and service.

Well, perhaps all of this ‘work’ sounds unbearable or even unattainable. It is unbearable apart from love and removed from grace. But when we contemplate the great love with which Christ has loved us, our Christian duty not only becomes bearable but joyful, a work we happily face at the rising of the sun and rejoice over at the setting of the same. Consider the implications of being called into the vineyard! Would you rather be standing idle in the hopelessness of your sins?

What grace, what love we have received from the householder who has called us out of darkness and into his marvelous light- praise be to God! And what does he ask of us? To live a life in accordance with the calling we have received, to walk in holiness and righteousness all our days, so that at the last, we might obtain that incorruptible crown, that sure and promised hope. For we do not “run our race with uncertainty.” Our labor is not in vain but promises to be rewarded with an heavenly prize. So let us run to win and having won may our words be those of the blessed Apostle,

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Amen.

Did Christ Institute A Ministerial Priesthood?

The underlying question for many Evangelical’s is: did Christ institute a ministerial priesthood for His church?

Many object, and in aftermath of the Protestant Reformation, did reject the idea of an ecclesial order of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, citing 1 Peter 2:5 as justification for jettisoning the three-fold office saying “we are all priests.” While Anglicans and other catholic churches certainly affirm a common, universal priesthood of every believer, this doesn’t exclude Christ having instituted a ministerial priesthood, or new covenant priesthood.

THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE BELIEVER

First, the new testament ministerial priesthood finds its origins or pattern in the Old Testament priesthood instituted by God, who set apart the sons of Aaron and the Levites to specifically perform cultic or priestly functions on behalf of Israel. In fact, we see continuity in St. Peter calling the Christian faithful “a royal priesthood” (1 Pt 2.9) which echoes Exodus 19:6 where the Lord calls his chosen people, “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Peter sees continuity between the Israel of God and the Christian church. St. Paul himself identifies Christians as “the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16), not that God has abandoned physical Israel, but that covenantal relationship with the Father is now determined by union with Christ and no longer by ethnic relationship with Abraham: Jesus is the inaugurator a better covenant: “but now hath he [Jesus] hath ordained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which is established upon better promises (Heb 8:6). The comparison between the Israel of God in the Old Covenant and the Israel of God in the New is important for showing the reasonableness of the existence of a ministerial priesthood within the new testament church.

Even though in the Old Testament all the Israelites were considered priests, there existed a specific ministerial priesthood. For example, just a few verses after the Israelites are called a “kingdom of priests,” one discovers a distinct order of men who are considered priests apart from the people: “And also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out upon them” (Ex. 19:22).

In verse 24 we find the following: “And the Lord said to him: go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord.” What priesthood might this be? It is the firstborn priesthood whose priestly office would be given over to the Levites in Exodus 32 after the golden calf incident. The Lord says to Moses, “Behold, I have taken the Levites from among the people of Israel instead of every firstborn that opens the womb among the people of Israel” (Num. 3:12).

Clearly, the Israel of God in the Old Covenant had two priesthoods: the universal and the ministerial. Continuity of the Testaments would argue for two priesthoods in the New Testament church as well: a general priestly designation upon all faithful Christians and those men called out to perform the priestly cultic functions in the church.

THREE-FOLD OFFICE OF MINISTERS

Another way of seeing the reasonableness of a ministerial priesthood is by looking at the New Testament against the backdrop of the threefold structure of the priesthood after Israel becomes a nation under the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Aaron is constituted as the single high priest according to Exodus 31:30—the top level. His sons Nadab, Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar minister with him as priests according to Exodus 28:21—the middle level. Finally, as mentioned before, all the Israelites were universal priests according to Exodus 19:6—the bottom level.

When we compare this structure to the New Testament, we can see clearly the top level, which is occupied by a single high priest, Jesus. Hebrews 3:1 reads, “Therefore, holy brethren, who share in a heavenly call, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Peter, an apostle, understands Jesus to be the Bishop, the high priest of the New Testament church, "For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls” (1 Pt 2:5). We see Jesus institute twelve apostles (each representing a tribe of Israel) as priests, giving to them the authority to bind and release sins on earth, "And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Mt 19:18-19)” Hereby giving to men the priestly authority to forgive sins on behalf of Christ in his absence. Not that they had an innate power but were entrusted with Divine authority as ambassadors of Christ on earth. To the Apostles he gave the words of institution, how they as priests would observe and continue the weekly offering of Holy Communion, which is the central act of worship Christ instituted in his church. St. Paul received from the Lord the very words (rite) by which his church was to worship and offer its sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving unto the Lord,

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, that the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord” (1 For 2:27-29).

To the apostles Christ gave these ordinances that they might maintain and perform on behalf of the church that worship Christ instituted in the New Covenant. Note that weekly holy communion isn't a 're-sacrificing' of Christ, but a commemoration, a remembering, a celebrating of Christ's once for all, sufficient sacrifice which the church re-enacts in praise and thanksgiving for the completed work of Christ.

Next we see in Acts, the Apostles ordaining deacons which assisted the Apostles in the ministry and worship of the New Testament church. So we see Christ as the Bishop, the Apostles ordained by Christ into priestly service, and Deacons ordained by the Apostles (who functioned as priests but also served as Bishops as they ordained men like Timothy, Titus, Clement, etc). The three-fold office of bishop, priest, and deacons in the new testament are the reality to which the High priests, priests, and levites pointed towards (a better priesthood of a better covenant).

I would add that one must see continuity from the OT to the New in Holy Communion being the central act of worship at an altar (which would infer a priest or presbyter), which is why the historic churches and Reformation churches (Anglican, Lutheran, etc) have altars in their sanctuaries. The Apostle Paul (or whomever wrote Hebrews) says of Christians, "We have an altar, whereof they [the Jews] have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle" (Heb 13:10). And lest we desire to overly spiritualize the centrality of Holy Communion as the act of Christian worship, remember that the same apostle spoke of the priestly act of blessing the cup and bread in worship, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?" (1 For 10:16). Surely the Apostle has in mind an actual cup and actual bread (note that he understands these to be the body and blood of Christ).

So from the New Testament we see Christ institute (continue the pattern of God's people of the first covenant) earthly ministerial offices which the Apostles and the earliest churches continue right to this day. One must see continuity in the covenant worship and structures which God has ordained. One must also see that Christ himself gave ministerial authority and the way in which Bishops, Priests, and Deacons are to perform these duties: again, to his disciples he gave the order and words for holy baptism and holy communion, the two ordinances given by Christ for salvation and participation in the new covenant.

Finally, is this the only way in which churches should order its ministers? Obviously not as we see so many variations in the different branches of Christ church. However, it would be difficult to argue for why churches would choose to order its ministers differently. The three-fold office of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons is not the only way, but certainly has the weight of scripture, tradition, and history. God sets men apart as shepherds, bishops, priests, deacons, to steward His people as the cultic leaders of the Christian church which is a '"royal priesthood a holy nation."

Let Them Grow Together

THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

"My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old" (Psalm 78:1–2)

So wrote a Psalmist of Israel who foresaw a teacher of great knowledge, one who would bring understanding to ancient and hidden wisdom. In the Gospel appointed for this fifth Sunday after Epiphany we learn that Jesus is the One of whom the Psalmist wrote, the One who teaches hidden truths through parables. In the words of our Lord, “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” We must always remember that divine truths can only be apprehended by the spiritual, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

Perhaps you are familiar with St. Anselm’s maxim: “Faith seeks understanding.” By this saying, Anselm didn’t intend to replace faith with understanding, rather, he understood faith as the necessary volitional disposition: understanding that love for God is the prime motive to act as God wills. Ultimately, Anselm hoped for the salvation of those who did not believe, his proofs for the God of scripture were given not only to strengthen those of faith, but to convince unbelievers as well. Jesus also desires the salvation of every man, woman and child. “Therefore,” Jesus said, “speak I to them in parables, because seeing they see not, and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” Here is the merciful motive of our Savior who presented truth in parables, in a form accessible to the senses, which would at the same time serve both to conceal and to reveal truth, according to the state of the hearers; that they might understand and believe. But again, spiritual truths are only discerned by the spirit. This morning, through the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, Jesus teaches important truths about the Kingdom of Heaven as it pertains to the administration and government of his Church. For the church in which we live out the Christian life is comprised of both wheat and tares. But, it is also a church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Good Sower.

St. Matthew begins,

ANOTHER parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field. But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way.  But when the blade was sprung up, and brought forth fruit, then appeared the tares also.

Christ’s church is a mixed church. Now, what we learn is that the mixed character of the Church is not due to Christ, Who sowed in His field the good seed of His life and example, of holy teachings and ordinances, watering it with the blood of His Cross and the dew of His Spirit.  But in spite of all He taught, did, and suffered, there is, as He Himself foretold, evil in the Church, for as we learn in this parable, there is also an enemy sowing his own children. Now in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus describes the devil as a father of lies, and tells those who are opposing him that they’re not truly children of Abraham, our father in faith, because his word had no room among them. Rather Jesus said,

you belong to your father the devil and you willingly carry out your father’s desires. He was a manslayer from the beginning and does not stand in truth because there’s no truth in him. When he tells a lie, he speaks in character, because he is a liar and the father of lies.

But the lies the evil one sows at night, in a darkness that hates the light, are not so outlandish that they can be easily spotted. In fact, they seem like truth, they seem like good seed. The weeds Jesus is describing in this parable initially look very much like wheat. As they sprout from the soil and begin to grow it’s almost impossible, even for farmers, to distinguish them from the wheat. It’s only later, when they’ve grown sufficiently, that you can tell the difference, but by that point their roots are so intertwined with the roots of the wheat that you can’t uproot the weeds without destroying the wheat, so farmers need to let them grow until harvest time and then go through the laborious process of separating the wheat from the weeds by hand.

Similarly, at the beginning, many of the lies of the devil seem credible. We see this in the garden with Adam and Eve. We see this in so many of the temptations we face in faith. The devil is a crafty sower. Outright lies and deceits plainly seen as evil loses power over hearts that are made to seek the good. But oftentimes it’s very difficult to tell the difference between the seeds of good and evil, the tares which grow in such a way that their roots become firm in us and it’s very hard to get rid of them. And, as we look out across the field of this world, there seems to be more weeds than wheat. Like farmers we are tempted to lose hope for a successful harvest, or, we brace at the sheer amount of work it’s going to take to separate the wheat from chaff.

But Jesus doesn’t seem to share our same fears. When the servants ask him, “Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?  The Master replies, “Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest.” The servants were so worried and obsessed about the weeds. The Master was not. He wants the attention of the good servants away from the tares and redirected on bearing fruit, on doing good, rather than on the eradication of evil. This is a very important lesson for us. Too often we obsess on the problems of others’ not practicing the faith, on challenges which arise from a mixed field, about the vast multiplication of tares in our part of the vineyard or in other parts of the field that we can fail to bear fruit. These weeds, in many respects, become like the thorns in Jesus’ parable of the Sower and the Seed, where the thorns eventually choked the growth of the good seed. Jesus is saying “focus on doing good and let me worry about the field.”

He tells us this because we can’t see all that he sees. The parable indicates to us that in the early days, we can’t tell who the good seed is and who is bad; who are truly children of the kingdom and who are children of the evil one; who is living according to the truth and who is living according to half-truths. Most of us, if we’re honest, have a Christian hubris that presumes we are the children of the kingdom, that we’re the true wheat, and that others are the tares, but our eyes are incapable of truly seeing that. If we had started our deracinating work too early, just think, we would have lost St. Peter, whose first words were that he was a sinner. We would have lost the Apostle Paul, who’s previous occupation was tormenting Christians. We would have lost a young and lustful St. Augustine.

We ourselves, at so many times in our life, likewise, would have been uprooted and thrown away. But as the Lord said to Moses I am a “merciful and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in kindness and fidelity.” You see, the mercy of God extends for a thousand generations, far greater than the three to four generations that our sins can damage. Therefore, I urge each and every one of us to be patient; wait to see the true growth, to see what happens in the seedbed of the Lord’s mercy. When we focus too much on eliminating weeds it becomes easier for them to envelop us. Our first and primary task is to allow the seed of the Word of God to grow in us, to allow that fallen grain of divine grace to develop in the soil of our hearts so that we may become fruit-bearing wheat. To be that good seed which the Sower can plant in the midst of the world, scattered amidst the soil of others hearts so that they in turn, may grow up to be true wheat as well. God wants the children of the kingdom to shine like the sun in the midst of a dark night, so that those walking in darkness may see the children of light and follow them into the radiance of the day: a day that will know no sunset. Let us leave to the Lord the sifting that will be necessary to do later and focus on the fields of the world which are ripe with harvest.

The Lord Jesus Christ is that divine and heavenly seed which has been implanted in our hearts for the purpose of bearing fruit, the fruit which grows from loving and faithful union with him. The fruit which serves as a testimony to the Good Sower who saved us from our sins, must first grow and multiply at home; evidenced in the way we treat one another; how we love each other:

PUT on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, mercy and compassion, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a complaint against any; even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.  And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.  And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.  And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the Name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father through him.

Mercy, compassion, kindness, humility, patience, forgiveness… In other words, let “Christ dwell in you richly…” Nurture and preserve the word which was implanted in your soul. Let it conform every fiber of your being. Let it your mind become as the mind of Christ, your speech unto godliness, and your wills directed toward all that is good and lovely.  And above all, says the Apostle, “put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.” By such as these are the wheat known. Beloved, let us love one another in the church (even if that means we may love a tare or two) as Christ loves us. Let us be directed onto charity and good works; not judging too quickly, but patient, long suffering, and full of grace. And by our love for others, may the world come to know our savior Jesus Christ: the sower of good seed. Amen

The Manifestation of Mercy

THE FOURTH WEEK AFTER EPIPHANY

The season of Epiphany is one of continual revelation. Week after week the Sunday readings unfold, disclosing God’s redemptive plan to rescue humanity even the whole created world from the catastrophic effects of the fall; that unhappy day when our first parents, Adam and Eve, willfully disobeyed their Creator. It’s an age-old tragedy par excellence. You see, the allure for transcendent knowledge signified in the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, tempted their desires, and, being beguiled by the Serpent, the man and woman succumb to unholy partook of that forbidden fruit and so fell from a state of innocence. Adam and Eve had enjoyed the company of God, walking with him in the Garden. They beheld clearly—face to face— in perfect union with The Lord God; uninhibited and unafraid.

Sin ended man’s ability to see the face of God, to look upon his face. To Moses God said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:20). for no unclean thing can come into the presence of Holiness and live. But God, who desired to be with his creation, graciously went to great extents to protect his fallen children from his Divine presence. Think of Adam, whom before bringing froth the woman from his flesh, God put into a deep sleep to protect him from the presence of divine activity. God graciously did the same to Abraham, putting him also into a deep slumber before ratifying his covenantal promise to the patriarch. As the sun set the Divine presence mysteriously appearing as a smoking furnace and a burning lamp passing between the two pieces of the sacrifice which God had torn asunder.

Even Moses, whom God invited into his presence on the mountain, was not permitted to see God’s face but his back only; for no man could withstand the tiniest glimpse of his glory and live. Great care was taken by God to protect his chosen people from his holy presence commanding Moses to

Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot; whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain (Ex 19:10–13).

It was the mercy of God which compelled him to protect and safeguard sinful humanity from his presence. In fact, I find it totally incomprehensible and incredible, that the creator of the universe who lovingly made all things would, in the face of rejection, disobedience, and infidelity, choose to remain present; to stay intimately concerned with the plight and poor estate of such miserable sinners. “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy” (Ps 103:8) declares the psalmist. He most certainly is plenteous in mercy.

In times past God showed great mercy to his unfaithful bride Israel, the people of the covenant with God, a covenant they broke many, many times: for infidelity was the great sin of Israel. The infidelity of her Judges and Kings illustrated their incapacity for covenant loyalty. Like Hosea’s bride the people of Israel and their leaders acted the harlot worshipping other gods under oaks and poplars and elms. They tore down altars and propped up Ashtoreth poles in the high places. They defiled the tabernacle with pagan idols and all sorts of unclean things, even sacrificed their very own children in Moloch’s fires.

When infidelity ruled the hearts of Israel her prophets cried out “Woe is me!” appealing to God’s mercy! “Woe is me!” cried Micah “we will bear thy indignation, for we have sinned against you!” (Micah 7:18). Unto Isaiah the Lord laid out his charge against Israel, “Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the Lord, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward” (Is 1:4). But in his wrath God declared to be merciful to his people,

For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.

In the preaching of Micah, Isaiah and the prophets we must not overlook the unbreakable link between God’s mercy- which they often cried out for because of the people's sins- with the incisive image of love on God's part. The Lord loves Israel with the love of a special choosing, much like the love of a spouse, and for this reason He (out of his love and great mercy) pardons their sins, even forgiving their infidelities and betrayals. When the Lord God finds repentance and true conversion, He brings His people back to grace.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land (2 Chr 7:14).

In God’s mercy is signified a special power of love, a love that prevails over the sin and infidelity of his chosen people. In his love “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other” (Ps 85:10). The Holy One of Israel, our Father who are in heaven, is a merciful God. As we confess in the liturgy his property is always to have mercy. This morning on the fourth Sunday in Epiphany the church in her wisdom would have us contemplate the mercy of God, which has been manifested in the appearing of His Son, through the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ: God with us; God to save us. For the epiphany of Christ is the revelation of mercy given for the world to reverse the horrible effects of the Fall. He who knew know sin has come in the fullness of our humanity for the redemption of sins.

We innately love mercy do we not? The very idea of it, even the most basic understanding and conceptualization of mercy evokes relief, refreshment, and happiness. Which are perfectly normal responses because misery isn’t some abstract concept. No, misery is real. This life is not without its sorrows with so many days filled with anguish and consternation. Hear the wisdom of Sirach,

Great travail is created for every man, and an heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother’s womb, till the day that they return to the mother of all things… Wrath, and envy, trouble, and unquietness, fear of death, and anger, and strife, and in the time of rest upon his bed his night sleep, do change his knowledge. A little or nothing is his rest… (Sirach 40:1-6).

We suffer misery at the hands of wicked men and deceivers, from mockers, slanderers and the unjust; from all sorts of external things. The world is filled with all kinds of miseries that continually land on our doorstep. But misery also comes from within, from ideas and actions which flow from a fallen nature and its proclivity unto sin.

The misery of sin is never alone but always in the company of shame, guilt, and sorrows: misery loves company! What anguish King David must have suffered from sin. How he longed for God to merciful unto him,

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight… Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me…  Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice. Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.

“Make me to hear joy and gladness…” Like his father Adam, David had no means within himself to end his torment. Though absolutely capable of creating misery, he could not escape it. You see, misery when pushed beyond its limits will cry out for mercy; for the mercy of God which alone can wash away the filth of sin (Create in me a clean heart, O God!). Only that which God mercifully cleans can be brought back into the love and goodness of God: able to once again stand face to face with the Lord of Mercy.

In Matthew’s account of the Leper and Centurion found in today’s Gospel, he provides a two-fold picture of misery and God’s restorative mercy; in one we see a picture of salvation, in the other, we are given an example of the one who receives mercy. First, the leper is a picture of our salvation, where the sickness of leprosy represents a person riddled with sin, his external state a metaphor for the sickness of fallen hearts: the external state pointing to an inward reality. For we too were diseased, suffering corruption brought about by sinful lusts and inordinate passions. Such is the state of every natural person as heirs of the fall. It’s a hard truth I know. We want to think the best about ourselves; we are eternal optimists. But let us also be realists. Man is born sinful, a transgressor, a disobedient child. Is this not our confession? That we too were once dead in trespasses and sins?  Hear the Apostle Paul,

in times past ye walked according 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 the mind, and were by nature children of wrath (Eph 2:1-3).

In a very real sense, men are lepers who have not felt the healing touch of Jesus Christ. In the same sad and sorry estate as this poor leper, who longs to be released from his misery “Lord if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” And here we perceive in him not a question of Jesus’ ability but rather his willingness to heal. “If you will…” to which our Lord lovingly answers: “I will, be cleansed.” He “came down from the mountain” records St. Mathew, with full intent to enter into the suffering and misery of this poor diseased leper. “I will.” In that gesture and tin hose words of Christ is the whole history of salvation, in two simple words the merciful will of God to heal us is embodied there; his great desire to heal, to cleanse us from the evil of sin which disfigures and dehumanizes us.

With a touch Jesus restores in body and soul all that was lost or broken in the man, removing every impurity, making him clean: sinful flesh made clean by Divine flesh. For the incarnation was necessary to redeem fallen humanity, to redeem man in the totality of his body, soul and spirit, Christ had to assume all the elements of human nature, otherwise man would not have been saved. In the words of Gregory of Nazianzus “What has not been assumed has not been healed.” To the Leper, Christ Jesus became that which shows the love of God to be stronger than any evil, even of the most contagious and horrible disease. On the cross, the perfect One without spot or blemish took upon himself our infirmities, became the ‘leper’ so that we might be purified.

The loving mercy of Christ is a reconciling mercy. It restores sinners back to the Father, brings us into the light with no need to hide in shame as our first parents did. Having received the compassionate touch of Christ we, with the Leper, are free to gaze into the eyes of Mercy, beholding the face of our salvation without fear of destruction, no longer in the shadows. The True Light of heaven has been manifested to the world, and he has called us into that glorious light. For God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). Let these words like a joyous song resound in your hearts: salvation has come through the manifestation of God’s Mercy.

And who is the one who receives mercy? Let us consider for a moment the Centurion who sought out Jesus in Capernaum, beseeching him and saying “Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented.” The Centurion is a man tormented by the misery of another and because he longs for his servant to obtain mercy he seeks out the Lord. Who is the one who receives mercy? First, it is the merciful. The merciful master whose “slave was dear unto him” received mercy. As our Lord himself says “blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (Mt 5:7).  So, mercy is shown to the merciful.

Next, mercy is shown to the humble who confess their need. “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” This man, one of authority and in the opinion of the Jewish religious leaders believed him to be worthy of Jesus’ help (we see this recorded in Luke’s account). And yet, the great Centurion is even greater in humility, “I am not worthy that thou shouldst come under my roof!” Having laid aside pride and self-importance he beseeches the Lord to have mercy, to have compassion and heal his dying servant. Humility is met with mercy, for, humility is the hallmark of true Mercy. The interlocking aspect of mercy and humility is pictured in our Lord’s stooping to wash the feet of his disciples. Of his humiliation the 17th century English cleric Jeremy Taylor writes, “Thus God lays everything aside, that he may serve his servants; heaven stoops to earth, and one abyss calls upon another; and the miseries of man, which were next to infinite, are excelled by a mercy equal to the immensity of God.”

Finally, mercy responds to faith. Like the leper, the Centurion also believed that Jesus could make things right, “But only speak the word, and my servant shall be healed.” What wonderful faith! It was so astounding that Jesus ‘wondered’ or ‘marveled’ at it. Faith in Christ anticipates mercy. We must believe God to be merciful and we must believe he will hear our cry and respond to our misery, that he is  not only capable, but trust that he is willing to do so. Friends, if we have few Epiphanies of mercy, then we may have few Epiphanies of faith. For saving faith is not of our own but is a gift from God, a faith that trusts with every fiber of its being in the faithfulness and character of God. He is merciful. He will have mercy upon all who truly turn unto him with a penitent and lowly heart, trusting in his righteousness for the forgiveness of sins.

God is merciful because he is love. And this we know because mercy didn’t stay in the heavens but came down to earth; it was revealed and fully disclosed in the God-Man Jesus Christ. The Lord knows our every infirmity, has keenly diagnosed our sickness of heart. The great physician is near and he is merciful unto all who call upon him. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations.” Beloved let us prepare our hearts to approach Christ at his table, to come face to face with mercy. And let us with faith “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:16). Amen.

The Manifestation of Glory

THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

All Men Desire Communion With Divinity

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” Every person yearns for the transcendent, for that which is beyond himself. The quest to enter into transcendence is innately connected to the souls never ending pursuit of happiness: to attain the happy life, a good life. Once we realize how bereft of these things we are in and of ourselves, we turn our search outward: seeking happiness and goodness in relationships, in occupations, in material possessions (like big cars and overpriced steak), in created things (seeking spiritual experiences on a mountain hike or scuba diving in the ocean). Man attempts to attain the transcendent through so many created and material means, he is trying to touch divinity, to find and be near something that embodies ‘god-ness’.

Throughout all of human history, man’s god-quest has taken on various forms of prayer, sought to touch the divine through mediums diviners and oracles, performed rituals, offered all sorts of sacrifices, employed any and all manner of spiritual and cultic exercises. We humans are hard-wired with a desire to commune with divinity to grasp the transcendent. And this is so because the Christian God has written it into the fabric of the human heart: we are created by Him, and, for Him. So, in reality, this universal human endeavor to find the divine is actually the souls desire to return to its Creator. St. Augustine beautifully articulates this truth writing “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

But not all who seek divinity find the True God. So was the state of the Athenian philosophers with their pantheon of fakes who had not found the Holy God of Scripture. Desiring they should find Truth, St. Paul described to them the God who,

“made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being for we are also his offspring” (Acts 17:26-28).

And today, the Athenians still search. Humanity is still trying to attain that which is True, Good, and Beautiful. Man working to draw near to divinity: this is the story of humanity. God drawing near to man: this is the story of Christianity. The One, True God, Creator of heaven and earth, the God of Holy Scripture: this God has drawn near to us and has made himself known. If Advent is about God drawing near to men by the incarnation of the Eternal Son, then Epiphany is the necessary continuation of the incarnation, the "manifestation" of God in the flesh, the revealing of the Lord Jesus Christ the God-Man made manifest for the salvation of the world.

Epiphany is Shrouded in Mystery and Miracle

The Epiphany season is bedazzled by mystery and centers on three main appearing’s of Christ: First, in the visit of the Magi to the Infant Jesus in which the salvific plan of God is revealed to the Gentiles. Second, in the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan when he manifested himself as the Messiah, the Only-Begotten Son of God, consecrated by the Holy Spirit as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. And third, this evenings Gospel reading invites us to a Wedding Feast at Cana where Jesus miraculously transforms water into wine and by the miraculous, manifests his glory.

Epiphany is a season not only filled with beauty, but shrouded in mystery and miracle. On the Feast Day, you might recall, we read in Matthew’s Gospel of a moving star which leads the gentile Magi to the infant Jesus by coming to a stop directly over his home. We learn of woman, a virgin, who miraculously gives birth to a son, and, of the Magi who escape the cruelty of Herod by receiving a warning from God himself in a dream. Not to mention, at a dove which somehow descends directly over Jesus and the audible affirmation from his Father in heaven. Miracles and mystery.

The Miracle at Cana reveals Jesus to be the Christ

Jesus’ miracle at Cana, where he transforms water into wine, is unlike any previous miracles we encounter in Matthew’s infancy narratives. Because the miracle at Cana is performed solely by the hand of Christ. In Matthew’s Gospel we read of miracles performed FOR Christ… (The star, the dreams, etc.) In contrast, St. John records a miracle performed BY Christ. And in his first recorded miracle a divine convergence occurs, the convergence of the mystery and the ministry of Christ. And by this divine convergence the glory of Christ is revealed. The miracle at Cana reveals Jesus to be the Christ sent by the Father to re-create and transform the world. This is the ministry of Christ.

The Mystery Of Christ

I want to first talk about the mystery of Christ. Because without the mystery there is no ministry. Out of love God created the visible world, the heavens and the earth, and he created man, male and female, to enter into and enjoy sacramental union with him and each other. But temptation gave way to sin and they disobeyed God, forever disrupting the good order of all things. Crushed by the weight of original sin, the man and woman fell far from grace, forever destined for death, alienated from God and disinherited from the eternal riches of His Kingdom. But God was determined to make all things new again. Through Abraham God promised to bless the nations of the world. He promised to raise up a new prophet like Moses from among his people who would speak the very words of God (Dt 18:18). He would raise up a shepherd who would feed his people with knowledge and understanding (Jer 3:15) A virgin would give birth to one named Immanuel signifying that God would come into the midst of his people.

Alluded to in the Old Testament

The Prophet Zechariah saw a day when God would come to his own,

Thus saith the Lord; I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem: and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth; and the mountain of the Lord of hosts the holy mountain. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof (Zech 8:2-4).

God in the midst of his people: young and old, men and women dwelling with their God, the streets resonating with the wonderful sound of happy, healthy children. But don’t miss this: the return of God to his people would also bring in the praise of the nations, Zechariah continues,

Yea, many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold out of all languages of the nations, even shall take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you (vv. 22-23). For God’s people, His returning was synonymous with salvation, their goodness and happiness. They knew that His appearing would usher in the day of restoration and salvation. The Creator would come and recreate all that was broken. He would begin his divine work of making all things new.

The Mystery Revealed In Miracle

And here is the mystery: God would return to save his people but not only Israel, but the gentiles as well. This is the Great Mystery of Christ: 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. A mystery which from the beginning had been hid in God, the divine wisdom sought of the prophets and longed for by angels. God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself. A mystery revealed to the Apostle Paul that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel. This great mystery is revealed in the miracle of transforming water into wine, where Jesus wields the recreative power of God to transform a created thing and thus manifests himself to the world as the God who draws near to save.

The Collects Point to our Present Need of Christ’s Ministry

At Cana the veil is pulled back permitting us to see the recreative work of Christ. By divine power he transforms water into wine. Now this isn’t a creative act in the strict sense as when he created the world ex nihilo (from nothing). Jesus doesn’t create water from nothing and then from water create wine. Rather, He recreates that which already exists, transfiguring and transforming that which is created into something brand new: Behold I am making all things new.

This is exactly what Christ came to do; to do a new thing; to usher in a new covenant with his creation; to turn hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; to put broken hearts back together again; to turn sorrow to joy and suffering to laughter; to recreate and transform humanity into his very own likeness, thereby graciously making us sons and daughters of God by faith. This great recreative ministry Christ first revealed in helping a wedding party desperately in need of more wine.

Friends, the True Light has shined into the darkness, God has revealed himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ. But the darkness lingers, and in the darkness lurk the horrors of this life. Wedding joys can so quickly turn to desperation, need, anxiousness, and deep, deep sorrow. How we long to drink the good, restorative, wine of Christ; to know that the manifested Christ is near. He is not the far away God because he has descended right into the depths of the earth, right into the midst of our trials and suffering. He is no longer merely a God up there, but surrounds us from above, from below, and from within: he is all and in all. And he is in our midst, even as I speak, wielding his recreative power, not only for the transformation of your soul, but the transformation of life’s circumstances. He is making all things new because Jesus is the true giver of joys, the awakener of life, the reliever of cares. He is near to you. He is near to me.

He Saves the Best Wine Till the Last

But let us remember, Jesus saves the best wine until the end. He gives according to His own time, not according to our ideas. We may experience days, weeks, years, perhaps the better part of a lifetime before our lips taste the better wine. Hear the wisdom of St. John Chrysostom,

Christ made not wine simply, but the best wine.—God keeps the best drink for His children for the most part for the last, many a time even for heaven. We must not allow ourselves to be discouraged, if the help delays. Take heart. We are promised to drink, we will taste the incomprehensible goodness, mercy, and love of Christ at the celebration of the Lamb.

He keeps His best till last, and this is Christ’s prerogative, his rule to enforce when he desires, which all who would be happy must submit to. He will certainly have us bear chastening, imperfection, doubt, and all manner of distress, in this life, that we may, by His mercy, come at last to be satisfied with the plenteousness of His house, and to drink of His pleasures, as out of the river (Ps 34:8).  Thus, the Lord's waiting with His good wine until the end of the feast must encourage us to embrace patient expectation, teaching us to bear with hope, faith, and love, that which cannot be helped. But be assured beloved, the manifested Christ is near and is at work. The glory of the Lord has been revealed from heaven and the radiance of his goodness shines upon us in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ the chief Bishop and Shepherd our souls. Amen.

Thou Art My Beloved Son

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

‘And it came to pass in those days, that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee, and was baptized of John in Jordan. And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him: and there came a voice from heaven, saying, Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.’

This past December we were so very blessed to hold our first baptism here at St. Benedict’s. A very special and happy day for me personally, my family, and I hope, for all who were there. On that special Sunday evening, we were given the privilege of welcoming a beautiful child into God’s covenant family through the sacred rite of Holy Baptism, when we gathered around the baptismal font just back there, where it stands as a reminder of both the dignity of Christian baptism as a Gospel Sacrament, and the means of our own entry into the Church, when we were first received into the church, the family of God.

This evening, Mark’s Gospel calls us to consider the baptism of Jesus, baptized as he was by his cousin John in the River Jordan.  Now John's baptism itself is a bit of a puzzle. While there were a number of differing purification rites and ceremonies in Judaism and within the sects springing from it, like the Essenes, it is hard to find a direct precedent. What we do know is that, as the Jews looked forward to the coming of Messiah, there was a sense that the messianic age would come with God's purifying judgment; when promises such as  the one in Ezekiel, I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness would be fulfilled.

And certainly John the Baptist stands in the line of the prophets.  He is the one Crying in the wilderness prepare ye the way of the Lord for the messianic age is about to dawn. Come and be washed, come and repent, come and be forgiven. Prepare your hearts and amend your lives for the Day of God's visitation is at hand. John, the prophet in the wilderness, administers a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins and so drives a sledge-hammer through the Jerusalem cult, for it was only in the Temple, through priesthood and sacrifice, that atonement could be made.  

Moreover, to tell those within the covenant that they were dirty and needed washing struck at the root of all that the cult stood for.  It was the Gentiles who were dirty; tax collectors and sinners were dirty; but not the people of the Temple and the Law, no, they were clean!  But not so, says John, as if he knew that a New Temple was about to appear, a temple of flesh and blood, where the divine Presence would be seen and where forgiveness would be mediated: Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.  This is strong stuff indeed.

But we have to be clear,  John's baptism was limited: It was preparatory. It was concerned solely with cleansing and forgiveness.  It was pointing forward. It was as if John with Moses had climbed the mountain and had seen the Promised Land from afar- but a fulfillment was still to come. That is why John's baptism is not Christian baptism.  Why in the Acts of the Apostles, we read that John's disciples had also to be baptized into the name of Jesus. For even if Jesus' own baptism by John was seen to be a prototype of Christian baptism, note how in the accounts of Jesus' baptism, the concept is broadened.   For Jesus submits to this baptism of repentance as a sign of his Messianic vocation to bring reconciliation between God and humanity, the whole reason of Epiphany (the salvation of the world manifested incarnationally). In His baptism, Jesus identifies himself with us in our sinfulness, in our need, though he himself was without sin. But, in addition, we read in Mark’s Gospel of the descent of the Holy Spirit and the voice proclaiming divine Sonship: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.

The forgiveness of sins; the gift of the Spirit, the bestowing of a dignity as a beloved Son of God… all of these come to us through Christian baptism. At the font we are washed, filled with the Spirit, and God says to each of us “because of my One and only Son… therefore you are my beloved son. You are my beloved daughter.” And this is the most wonderful and beautiful thing in the whole world is it not? This is the good news: the glory of the Gospel made present tonight right here in our midst.

But reflection on Christian baptism in the New Testament should not end there, for mage upon image is associated with it. For example; being born again; the new spiritual birth from above; being brought from darkness into light as the illumination of soul and mind. The image of our being clothed with Christ and even more radically in the writings of St. Paul, our being united with Christ: united in such a mystical way that his death becomes our death; his burial our burial; his rising again our rising again. In other words, Christ's story becomes our story, so much so, that in Him we are re-created and joined to him (both our bodies and our souls) by faith in baptism, betrothed and wedded to Christ, the font of eternal salvation.

Now this is strong imagery indeed. Forgiveness, the Holy Spirit, a magnificent dignity as sons and daughters of God, new birth, our transference from darkness to light, and finally, union with Christ in His death and resurrection. You see, if John's baptism pointed forward to the in-breaking of the kingdom- the messianic age- then Christian baptism celebrates our incorporation into that new age, into the new world being reformed and re-fashioned back to its original state of beauty and tranquility.

The old age is passing away an age characterized by death and corruption; an age that points to all that must die if the Kingdom is to come in righteousness and joy.  The new age is about what happens when the Lord is King, when Christ reigns, when all the ugly stuff gets sorted out. In Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of heaven is manifested on earth, the beauty of heaven comes and the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the good news of the Gospel resound in the ears of the poor.

The problem is, we live in a time when the old age which is passing away and the new age which is being brought to birth run in parallel.  So baptism for Paul, and the consciousness of being baptized, means that we are provoked - daily - to live as those who belong to the new age - Shall we continue in sin? God forbid! In baptism you died to sin - so that as Christ was raised from the dead, so you too should walk in newness of life. Using another Pauline metaphor: the old age is as the night - a night which is far spent - but nevertheless is still night, still dark; whereas we are called to live as children of the day, as children of light confounding the darkness.

The bustle and distraction of this modern world is all too often detrimental to the soul. In the demands and day-to-day barrage of life we lose sight of the faith we professed at our baptism, the duties we vowed to uphold, our promise to denounce and reject all that is wicked and evil. Which is why the Gospel of our Lord’s baptism serves as a much needed occasion to return to our own.. To the font of eternal life where our life as children of God began. There we were crucified with Christ, putting to death and sin and uncleanness were put to death, and from there, we rose in the newness of life, we ‘put on Christ’ dressed in a heavenly garment.

So on Sundays, when you come into the Lord’s house make a deliberate act of walking past or around the font a part of your regular spirituality. Let it, in all its imagery and emotion, provoke you to walk in newness of life, remembering that in the water you received the Spirit of holiness. Let it assure you that those true words spoken to Jesus himself at the River Jordan are also true for you: You are my beloved son.. You are my beloved daughter.  In contemplating your great Baptismal Exodus from death to life, be inspired, ‘press on’ to work and pray for the Kingdom of God. And my the font be a sign of joy, a reminder of hope, a celebration of life that in Christ the old age is passing away, the new age, the new world is here and we have been enlisted and commissioned in our baptism to be Ambassadors of Christ in it until the Kingdom of God comes in the fullness of its glory and Christ is all and in all, world without end.  Amen.

We Have Seen His Star

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY

“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: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.” 

A very happy feast of the Epiphany to you! Today, the joy of Christmas morning continues to shine forth, the good news of a savior being born into history is furthered propelled into the mystery and beauty of the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. And so we enter into this season of Epiphany as a kind of continuance of Christmas, for we find ourselves yet in the presence of the Christ-child, the promised seed of Eve, the One who would eternally reign on David’s throne, the one to whom Moses and the prophets looked to: God has come. And so Epiphany- the appearing of God in the flesh- builds upon Christmas by further interpreting the incarnation as the self-revelation of God, the God who has chosen to make himself known (and not only to Israel), but mercifully he has manifested his Glory to the whole world.

The days and weeks of Epiphany-tide are filled with such incredible beauty. In fact the very word itself is beautiful: “epiphany”. The beauty of Epiphany fills the imagination with such wondrous images from the Gospel narratives, a gallery of masterful landscapes of simple yet mysterious eastern deserts brilliantly illuminated by heavenly starlight, or the splendor of foreign kings each dressed in majestic robes, carrying strange and wonderful gifts. Or the pious picture of the Holy family: Mary, Joseph, and the Christ-child. Not set in a palace or arrayed in riches, but rather, in a lowly manger. Not surrounded by a throng of courtiers but nearly alone save a few animals. Today’s Gospel provides another picture, a very familiar one, a picture of the gentiles being led by a star, the adoring of Christ by the Magi who came from afar to look upon the glory of God made manifest in a little child. This iconic is simple, its pure, unadulterated- one might say it’s perfect. Its simplicity and honesty is powerful and it is beautiful.

Beauty is such an inherent part of our worship. So much so that it can become part of the subconscious, like a man living on an island who after sometime forgets he’s surrounded by the splendor and mystery of the ocean. Just look this beautiful sanctuary, so richly adorned with these marvelous stained glass windows, the craftsmanship and care taken in producing these pews, the rail, and the altar; with its fine linens, and brass, and lively candles. We are fortunate to have inherited from the church of the ages and the foresight of the founders of this parish who valued not only truth and goodness, but valued beauty as well. One of the great contributions Christianity has given to the world is beauty and that’s because God is beauty, he in himself (Father, Son, and Spirit) is beautiful. And this truth has been manifested century after century by the Church through her beautiful works of art, through sculpture, in architecture, hymnody and literature.

Beauty abounds from the very pages of Holy Scripture. Just listen to one of Israel’s prophets, who foresaw the day when God, in his mercy, would make himself known to the nations, “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the LORD shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.” Such powerful words, wrapped in mystery for sure, perhaps even a bit foreboding, and yet filled with such tangible hope, “the gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising.”

For us, Christianity and beauty are almost inseparable and yet it took several generations for the advent of Christian artistry to emerge from the earliest Christian communities. In fact, historians generally agree that There is no surviving evidence to suggest that Christians used art to express the central tenets of their faith prior to the third century. During the third century, however, they did begin to experiment with visual images, decorating their tombs, churches, as well as household objects and personal items, with pictorial decoration. Stories from the Old and New Testaments served as important sources of inspiration in this process. It wasn’t until around the 4th century under Constantine when Christian art began to flourish. It has been said that Constantine’s conversion came both by word and sign: approaching Rome in his successful bid to seize the imperial throne, he apparently saw a cross in the sky and heard the injunction, “In this sig, conquer” Perhaps the importance of the visual stimulated his lifelong program of erecting beautiful places of worship and the creation of Christian art to adorn these magnificent edifices.

Now, the earliest art was catechetical in nature depicting prominent scenes and imagery from the life of Jesus Christ. Under Constantine the church grew and with the multitude of new converts came the need for Christian art to teach, to catechize and disciple, thus Christian narrative art was born, and this art was dominated by imagery depicting the infancy narrative or our Lord. What we find is the prominence of the Magi in the earliest Christian art, imagery and story that has fired the Christian imagination since the earliest times. In art, the adoration of the magi appeared earlier and far more frequently than any other scene of Jesus’ birth and infancy, including images of the babe in a manger. And, in reading the early Fathers we quickly find that the early church attributed great theological importance to the story of Jesus’ first visitors—an importance not overtly stated in this enigmatic gospel account of omens and dreams, of astrological signs and precious gifts, fear and flight, darkness and light.

“WHEN Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the East to Jerusalem, saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” So opens the second chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the only biblical account of this nocturnal visit. In vivid contrast to Luke’s gospel, Matthew omits any mention of Mary and Joseph’s trip to Bethlehem to be registered, a crowded inn, a sheltering manger, or watching shepherds startled by an angel’s announcement of the messiah’s birth. Instead, the first gospel focuses on the journey of these eastern emissaries, who see an unusual star rising, interpret it as an omen that they should investigate, and follow its path first to King Herod of Judea and then to Bethlehem, where it appears to stop above a house in which a child had recently been born. Entering the house, the men pay homage to the babe and offer him gifts: gold, frankincense and myrrh.

By the giving of a sign, a brilliant star hung in the vast night sky, God began his salvific work of redeeming the Gentiles. For by a star he drew those who were afar and, using St. Paul’s term, living in darkness, into the radiance of his glory shining forth in the face of an heavenly child. But the time had come, for God to make known to the creation, the great mystery hidden in the previous dispensation, a mystery gracious revealed to St. Paul “...the mystery of Christ... which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy Apostles and Prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ, by the Gospel. The hidden mystery, kept and guarded in the secrecy of the Holy Trinity, made known to Paul and then to the Apostles, first revealed by an Eastern star. The light which it radiated some 2000 years ago signified and fulfilled that which Isaiah had foretold, which is the very testimony of the beloved apostle John who testified to the True Light, who “in Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness. The light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.”

Beloved The Light came into the world to save sinners. It was the mercy of God which placed that star in the heavens. A star so mysterious and profound that the Magi, even being led by their own wisdom, had to follow. For in giving such a brilliant sign, God, in his wisdom, knew they would come. And in coming, they would behold Divine Glory in the face of a child, the glory of God made manifest in the incarnation of His Son. Epiphany is the revelation of God’s mercy, his loving kindness, his great desire “To bring unto the gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; to inaugurate the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, but the wisdom of God.” It was the love of God that not only saw the lowly plight of Israel, but the poor estate of men, women, and children from every nation on earth. Thus fulfilling his promise to Hosea, “I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved.” For by a sign, the nations represented in the Magi, have come, from which the Father is making a new people, a new priesthood, and by His Son, is calling those who are in darkness into His glorious light.

The epiphany of Christ is our Heavenly Father’s revelation of salvation: that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ, by the Gospel. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. No sweeter or more beautiful words have ever been spoken. Friends, the dawning of a new day is here, the radiance of the glory of God shines bright in the person of Jesus the Christ. “It is full-time for us to awake from sleep… the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us cast of the works of darkness and put on the armour of light.” Let us break free of the false reality of materialism, out of a world which elevates and seeks understanding in all that is ugly under the hood-wink of authenticity. The manifestation of the mystery of Christ beckons us to leave a life of earthly pursuits without comprehension of the world beyond what we can see, or touch, or taste. Epiphany should inspire sobriety and holy living, that having beheld by faith the Glory of the Lord, we might run our race with courage, pressing on to attain the beatific vision, a vision of the exalted Christ in all of his majesty, a vision at the end of the age that will far eclipse the Magi’s sight of Jesus in his lowliness.

Let us pray,

O God, who by the leading of a star didst manifest thy only-begotten Son to the Gentiles; Mercifully grant, that we, which know thee now by faith, may after this life have the fruition of thy glorious Godhead; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Feast of St. John

THE FEAST OF ST. JOHN

Christmas Day is followed by celebrating three consecutive feast days. Yesterday, we celebrated The Feast of St Stephen, deacon and first martyr, joining to the joyous birth of our Savior, the death of one who makes the ‘good confession’ before men and in doing so, forfeits his life. This juxtaposition of life and death invites us to enter more fully into the depth of the mystery of Christmas. The Savior born into the world on Christmas Day manifesting eternal life unto all men, is the only-begotten Son of God who will save humanity by willfully dying on the cross. We celebrate the life of the Savior always mindful of his redeeming death.

Tomorrow, The Holy Innocents are commemorated, and again, our attention is directed towards martyrdom, the many innocent children slain by Herod’s cruel hand. He slays those little ones because fear in his heart over the birth of Messiah is slaying him. Those babes could not yet talk, but like Stephen, wonderfully confessed Christ. Their death met with salvation, as they entered into the Joy of the Lord. In the words of Quodvultdeus, Bishop of Carthage, “Helpless in their battle, they still carried the palm of victory.”

So why, on this day, do we celebrate The Feast of St John the Apostle and Evangelist? Why is our attention drawn to St. John within the orbit of the Christmas octave, bookended by martyrdom? Now, I would never presume to say that I hold the answer to this question! Far wiser and learned men have contemplated and discerned all of the reasons why the Church, in her wisdom, celebrates the Feast of St. John on December 27th.

Well, perhaps part of the answer simply lies in the incarnation: Very Life itself appearing in human form. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of Life (for the life was manifested and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us).”

This is John’s testimony. This is his message. This he has declared unto us. God became man that we might have eternal life. The Eternal Son of the Father became flesh in order that he could be touched by human hands, gazed upon with human eyes. Incarnation. This is how the Life, proclaimed by the beloved Apostle, was made manifest. Not through a word, nor by idea, but by the marrying of the spiritual and material, deity and humanity, Jesus Christ, fully God and fully Man. Incarnation: the means of our salvation.

Hear St. Athanasius, “He [Jesus] became what we are, so that He might make us what He is.” This is the Gospel. This is the Apostolic faith. In holding to this doctrine we enjoy fellowship and union with St. John and all the Apostle’s. Through Apostolic fellowship we enter into the joy of the Father and the Son, for that which we believe about our Lord Jesus Christ is an Apostolic faith, this we believe for the salvation of our souls.

The incarnation of our Lord, this too is the message we proclaim, the basis of ‘the good confession’, the truth which pierces the hearts of men, clears the floor like the winnowing fork, a message which divides, “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” And, as we are reminded during these Octave feast days, a message who’s messengers are met with stones and knives, their blood spilled as a witness to the Life which was made manifest on Christmas Day.

In Chapter 3 of his 1st Epistle, St. John writes that, “the Son of God was made manifest to take away our sins.” This is the Good News of the Gospel! And, this is why The Feast of St. John is so very important, it reminds us that our evangelistic proclamation is grounded in the incarnation of Christ: we proclaim to the world what St. John has proclaimed to us.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the father, full of grace and truth.” The incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you believe this? Then you are born of God. You are sons and daughters of God. And, you have overcome the world… Grace upon Grace! Beloved, with blessed assurance, come to the rail: look upon the mercy of God, hold it within your hands, take, eat, and receive by faith, the Word of Life made manifest for the salvation of the world. Amen.

God Has Spoken By His Son

CHRISTMAS DAY

“GOD, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son”

The Christian God is the god who speaks. Since the very beginning God has revealed his plan to reverse the curse brought about by the sin of our parents, Adam and Eve. In the garden, God said, that from Eve would come one who would crush the head of the serpent; that crafy creature who beguiled and deceived them. To Abraham God promised a posterity as numerous as the stars in the sky, from which nations and kings would come. To David, God promised a king who would come from his house, whose throne would be established forever.

In times past God also spoke through Israel’s prophets who foretold of One who would come “with righteousness to judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: to smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips slay the wicked.” One who would be miraculously born of a virgin, the promised seed of Eve, of whom the Angel Gabriel said “would be great, and called the Son of the Highest” the fulfillment of God’s promise to David, the One whom the Lord God would give the throne of his father David: to reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there would be no end.

Yes, in times past God spoke in various ways, through prophets, priests, and kings, of a future day when he would come and begin to make things right. And all of human history has existed in a never ending Advent season of waiting and anticipation, hoping for the revealed promises of God to finally come into being. Waiting for the full disclosure of God’s redemptive plan- made known without ambiguity or shadow.

“Behold, I bring you good 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.” On this day, Christmas Day, God has spoken to us in a final glorious manner and by a far more excellent Person than he had done in the former times, for today he speaks to us by his Son; not a prophet, priest, or King, but a Son, born of woman, born into history. The incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ is the final announcement and revelation of salvation to our broken and weary world. Yes, “In these last days, he has spoken to us by His Son.” And, through His Son, God our Father speaks life.

On this Christmas morning God desires to speak to us of the wonderful things he has done in Christ, that we might know and acknowledge what great a gift we have received. For the very day in which the eternal Son, the Word which was with God from the beginning, took on our flesh and became man that he might dwell amongst us poor miserable sinners, is the very day in which the trajectory of death and decay was redirected towards renewal and life; eternal life.

“In Him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” On Christmas, the light of life shone into the darkness of death, the dayspring from on high visited us to bring salvation to men by making peace with God the Father. The Christ-child was born into the world to die for sinners. By his obedient death, he would by himself purge our sins, that we might be reconciled back to our Father. And by One faithful and obedient Son, we too, by faith, have been made sons and daughters of God. “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”

In Christ God speaks to us not as slaves, not as enemies, but as sons and as daughters. Through Christ we have obtained sonship by rebirth, by being born of God. A rebirth only made possible by the pre-existent, divine, and eternal Word of God being manifested in the flesh, in the birth of Jesus the Christ, the True Light which has come into the world. By this light both our hearts and minds are illuminated, no longer confounded in our understanding, no longer lost in darkness, but rather, seeing and understanding without fear.

Because the Father loved so very greatly, he sent his only begotten Son… He sent His son: not an angel, not another earthly king, neither did he send a prophet. Rather, it is His Son who speaks a final message of salvation and eternal life.  The Son to whom he has appointed heir of all things.

This same Son who with the Father, created the world. The Son who is the express image of His Father, in whom is the brightness of God’s glory. The Son who upholds everything that is by the word of his power and sits at the right hand of the Father, in the highest place of preeminence and authority. He is vastly superior to anything that is created, even better than the angels, for his name is far greater than any other: for He is called Son. The Son who was born of a virgin on this day to reconcile men to the Father.

In the birth of Jesus, the world was given not only a real and tangible picture of God (If you have seen me, you have seen the father), but the very reality of God: “In Him was life.” You see, life IS the reality of God: abundant and eternal. Beloved, open your ears and hear the Son who proclaims, “I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” God has spoken through his Son. Life has come to a dying world. This is what Christmas is ultimately about. “And 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.” Amen.

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