Fr Michael Vinson

To the Uttermost

MAUNDY THURSDAY

Christianity is not built on fable and myths. Biblical faith does not recount stories as symbols of meta-historical truths; rather, the Christian faith establishes itself upon history. Divine history which unfolds upon earth, in time. On Palm Sunday, we participated (through the recollection of liturgy) in the historical event of our Lord’s triumphal entrance into the Holy City of Jerusalem, the day marking the beginning of the passion of our Lord, each day moving closer and closer to the suffering, death, and ultimately, the triumph of the Lord on Easter Sunday. And here, on Maundy Thursday, the Gospel reading draws us into the company of Messiah, in the upper room, where he sits with his disciples at table for one last meal. But this is no ordinary meal, neither is it merely occasioned by the coming Passover.

On this night, the Lord will pronounce the inauguration of a new covenant by institution of the Holy Communion; a covenant of restoration and redemption; a covenant ratified in his willful death. Through the words of institution, Jesus gives the sign of his covenantal promise; forever connecting the holy mysteries of bread and wine with his sacrificial death, recalling the immensity of his great love towards us and providing the church its primary means of proclaiming his death until he comes again. The death of Christ is the proclamation of the redeemed and the hope of the world, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” For it is solely by participation in his death (by faith) that we obtain the blessed promise of eternal life.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.

Maundy Thursday centers on the Last Supper and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. But here, in the fourth Gospel, John records the washing of the feet as an example given to the disciples, and its connection to the mandatum novum, the new commandment given by Christ, “to love one another as I have loved you” hence, ‘Maundy Thursday’. But before considering the foot washing, we must first see it as a dramatic commentary on Jesus’ death. For John’s gospel account is not simply a narrative recounting Jesus’ humility and service (it is certainly that!) but foreshadows the death of Jesus and the ultimate act of love. For in contemplating His servanthood, we can begin to understand the extent of humility and Divine love.

Jesus knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he was come from God, and went to God; He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself…

With the Last Supper, Jesus’ hour had arrived, his telos, the goal to which his earthly ministry had been directed from the very beginning: to reconcile the world to the Father through suffering and death, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” To accomplish this, God the Son embraced humility, even from the foundations of the world, leaving the riches of heaven to be born of a virgin, taking upon himself the frailty, susceptibility, and weakness of human flesh.

In the words of St. Augustine, “he laid not down what he had, but put on what he had not before.” You see, nothing was lost in the incarnation, rather, in leaving heaven, by willingly becoming low, the eternal Son set aside his pre-existent glory and gladly condescended himself; for

he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (to hold tightly); rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

The Bread of Heaven had first to take on the form of a servant and then be broken for the life of the world; for eternal life is not obtained merely by death, but through humility as well. With no regard to himself he loved to the uttermost, undeserving and rebellious sinners. In humility, he set his face to restore the injustice of sin, “to restore that which he did not steal.”

He [rose] from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself…

In preparing to wash the feet of his disciples, to make them clean, he laid aside his garments, the mark of a servant's position, embracing the work of a servant. You see, “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The laying aside of his garments is a vivid picture of Christ’s humility, the deep humility suffered at the hands of executioners, who violently stripped our Lord at the pillar, hanging him naked upon the cross. Jesus willfully embraced shame and humility at the hands of the very sinners he had come to save.

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

For love, Jesus suffered the humility of the Cross, and if we desire to emulate the Divine pattern, we too must humble ourselves before God and men, for it is impossible to love as our Lord commands apart from humility.

After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.

Jesus loves willingly and humbly, the greater serving the lesser and without regard to self. He loves impartiality for he not only washed the feet of Peter, a denier, but those of Judas, knowing full well the heart of his betrayer. Divine love is impartial, “the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.” Listen to the Apostle Paul and rejoice, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” The Divine pattern is to love the unlovable. Yes, it is the difficult path, but it is the way of Christ to which we have been called for “if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. But love your enemies, do good to them to hate you.” Like Jesus, we are to wash the feet of the unlovable with the same self-denying and self-sacrificing love.

 Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end.

Jesus knows it is the time of his departure (His exit) and he knows to whom he is returning, he is going to the Father. “Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved the unto the end.” Jesus loved them unto the end… or to put it another way, he loved to the uttermost: without fail, completely; perfectly; to the end. To the end of what, His earthly life? Certainly not, for if death could have ended Christ’s love, then he would have come into the world in vain with a love that could have been thwarted by death.

“To the end” means that Jesus loved until the point of death. He loved them with the total fullness of love. He loved them to the uttermost. This is the innate nature of Divine love, which Jesus showed over and over again. In love, he called his disciples to himself, taught, and nurtured them. Even in his rebukes he loved them perfectly. From the cross, in the last moments of life, he perfectly loved an undeserving thief and also ensured the care of his mother. He looked upon his executioners and condemners, asking his Father to forgive them “for they know not what they do.”

It is in Christ’s death, in servants work, where the fullness of Divine love is exemplified, for “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Beloved, Christ loves utterly, absolutely, totally, completely, selflessly, and to the fullest extent. This is the pattern of Divine love. And, having loved to the uttermost he uttered with his last dying breath, telestai: “It is finished.” Paid in full. In the words of institution given by Christ, we remember the death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave his disciples bread and wine as his body and blood. The full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, satisfaction for the sins of the world. Our Eucharistic celebration is not empty, being built upon stories and myths, but is full and weighty, built upon a broken body, upon spilt blood, upon the actual death of Christ. It is no mere fiction, but the culmination of salvation history, the very reality at the center of our communion with God and with each other.

After he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?

Of course, in that moment, the disciples were incapable of understanding the full significance of their feet being washed by the Lord. But we do; we understand. For us he made himself low. He came to serve, not to be served. By his all sufficient death he has washed us and made us clean. For neither the blood of bulls nor goats can make us pure. It is no longer by purification rites and cultic action that man is made clean; not only the body but the inner man. Cleanness of heart comes solely by faith in the cleansing blood of the Paschal Lamb: faith cleanses the heart. Purification is the result of Divine action, of Love which came down from heaven; Love which took the form of a servant and clothed itself in humility- the towel of submission and obedience. And what is that God requires? Has the Lord himself not shown us what is good?: “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Faith believes and love responds.

And here, at his most holy table a banquet is set, a feast for those who believe. Tonight, as he did so many years ago in an upper room, he feeds us with the Bread of heaven, his very own body and blood: his love never ending, never partial, and without limitation. He loves you to the uttermost, and if you have ears to hear, the Lord is calling his church to the same: “A new commandment I have given you, “Love one another as I have loved you.” Amen.

Christ, Our Perfect Sacrifice

THE FIFTH SUNDAY IN LENT, COMMONLY CALLED PASSION SUNDAY

This fifth Sunday in Lent begins the intensity of Passiontide. On this Passion Sunday, the Sunday before Holy Week begins, the Scripture readings help to understand the meaning of Christ's death on the Cross: the Passion of the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to know something of the "why" of the Passion if we want to respond to it as we should. Passion Sunday, as this day is commonly called, prepares and leads us into the sorrow of death, calling us to begin contemplating the horrible death of Christ; the climactic passion event in the drama of Good Friday.

Today we enter into a season of mourning our divine Bridegroom, putting on as it were sackcloth and ashes. The color red adorns the church, her altar, and ministers. The crosses are draped and veiled as a widow mourning her beloved; they will remain veiled as an outward sign of our inward sorrow. We veil the brilliant gold processional cross which has no corpus christi, recalling for us the death sentence under which Jesus lived until it was executed upon him so terribly at Calvary. And so our preparations begin for the coming days when the bridegroom will be taken away. Passion Sunday begins a lament, the gradual cessation of joy and an imminent confrontation with our Lord’s death. For the very idea and reality of what our Lord suffered, which is recapitulated during Holy Week, is nothing short of a mental melee and emotional assault. Passion Sunday anticipates Christ’s suffering and mysteriously draws us into it. Like a wise trail guide, points out the final destination which lay just over the next ridge, and thereby encourages his companions to keep on and finish the quest. You see, Good Friday is exactly where our Lenten journey as been headed all along. For Christ’s journey which began in a desert terminated on a Cross.

Today we are being put on notice: the suffering of our Lord is near, and as his disciples, we will suffer with him. Mother church is affording us a preview, a glimpse into what lies ahead; into Holy Week which begins one week from today on Palm Sunday as we re-enact the Messiah’s triumphal entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem, thus fulfilling Zechariah's prophecy, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy King cometh unto thee: he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.” But the praise and adulations of Palm Sunday will quickly morph into evil machinations, betrayal, and finally, the horrors of Good Friday. But today, we are graciously permitted to peer into what lies ahead. It's as if we’re eavesdropping in the garden of gethsemane, overhearing the agonizing prayer and discourse between a dutiful Son and his Loving Father, and made aware of the bitter cup from which our Lord will willingly drink on Good Friday, the very mission of the Son which again was foretold by the prophets of old,

"He [was] despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isa 53:3-6)

We find even the most fleeting thought of Good Friday uncomfortable. It stirs in the belly a concoction mixed of sorrow and bewilderment; shame and guilt. The remembrance of it affects us in a profound way because, first, we again become acutely aware of just how terrible a thing that fateful Friday afternoon was, and second, (if we’re honest), we know (in the depths of the heart) that we are complicit in the thing: would we have been the nobler Roman? Or the believing Israelite? Or the vow keeping Apostle? “Lord, I will lay down my life for you”, “Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee.” Surely we too would have cowered away in tears at the sounding of the crow. And even now, as those who have been graciously forgiven by the boundless mercy of God, the memory of Good Friday haunts the corridors of the soul and disturbs the conscience.

In our day, much of popular piety proceeds to review Holy Week historically; it pictures with great fidelity the various scenes of the "bitter passion," it dissects all the feelings and thoughts of our suffering Savior, it analyzes the virtues displayed by the Lord at every step. "How shall I imitate Him… what can I learn from Him?" are its most important questions. We find in the Suffering Servant, the Lord Jesus, a great motive for personal amendment: "He died on the Cross for me, and I have offended Him so deeply." Thus, there is a tendency for Paschal Mystery spirituality to devolve into seeking its end in self. The ancient Christians followed a different course. Of course, it also put Christ’s suffering up front but it was aiming too at the purpose of the Passion. It ascends to the contemplation of Christ first, and in doing so, revels in the realities afforded to us: in other words, “what He’s done”, not, “what I could do differently or better.” By His suffering, Christ redeemed and made us children of God. And, on approaching the most tragic day of the whole year, on Good Friday, the early Christians were not so eager to speak of the bitter passion but of the beata passio, the happy or blessed passion.

For Mother Church has declared the dark climax of our Lord’s Passion to be good: Good Friday. On that good day, the great Sacrifice of the High Priest was offered as a once-for-all atoning offering for the sins of the whole world. In the midst of sorrow and death, the Great High Priest showed himself to be both perfect Sacrifice and the perfect Sacrificer! All of the sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament had a single purpose: to point to Jesus Christ on the cross, whose one sacrifice of himself, once offered, he took into the holiest place of all—the presence of his Father in heaven. Jesus Christ on the cross is not only a sacrificial victim, he is the one and only High Priest who, raised from the dead, was able to offer the sacrifice of his own Body and Blood for our redemption. His one sacrifice of himself, offered for the remission of the sins of the whole world, means that there is no more need for sin offerings. The sacrificial ordinances of the Old Testament regarding animal sacrifices for sin are done away because their purpose is accomplished. The one, true, all-sufficient sacrifice has been offered forever, and so the author of Hebrews can put this question before us:

"For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” (Hebrews 9:13-14).

The answer, of course, is that the Blood of Christ can do (and for the faithful has done) what no animal sacrifice could—cleanse us forever from our sins and give us a new and eternal life in God’s fellowship and service. By his obedient death he has become our great high priest, passing through the heavenly tabernacle, taking his own blood into the most holy place, into the very presence of the Father having made atonement once and for all for our sins. What the blood of bulls and goats spilt over and over on the day of atonement could not do, he has done, for he is both the perfect Sacrificer and perfect Sacrifice.

Friends, only the Sacrifice of Christ’s precious body and blood can make the inner man clean, not merely ritually clean, but the body and the soul, our very consciences which all too often condemn, too often dredge up voices of discouragement and despair which lead to despondency, detachment, and the tyranny of the self. For the unclean conscience is infested with dead works. And let us understand what the preacher of Hebrews means by dead works. He doesn’t intend for us to recall the works of the Old Testament Law, under some legalism vs. grace construct (which is a tendency in much of present day evangelicalism). Rather, by dead works he means sins which defile and pollute the conscience. And these are in direct opposition to ‘good works’ which every Christian is called to perform. The Hebrews preacher writes,

“And having an high priest over the house of God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised; And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.”

To put it succinctly; the ‘good work’ is the opposite of sinning, it’s a life in pursuit of purity in heart. The ‘good work’ is necessary to fulfill the divine command to love. Love and Good Works are two sides of the same coin. Love is the good work and without the good work one cannot love. The rich soil from whence the fruit of love springs forth is faith. Not an abstract faith, an intellectual assent unto an idea or theory, neither is it stern adherence to an ethical code or social contract… it is fida Christus, faith in the Person and work of Christ. It seeks and desires an ever increasing knowledge of and trust in Him, who IS LOVE. We love because He first loved us” confesses the Apostle loved by our Lord. knowing God and being known by God is to be loved and is our capacity to love as well. But first, faith must seek and be found by Him, and having found Him, it compels us to know him, and in the knowledge of Him our Love burns and increases more and more. Hear the beloved Apostle from his first Epistle, “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”

Now, contrast this with the religious leaders from today’s Gospel who were blinded to Truth, who simply refused to believe to exercise faith in the Son of God, "Say we not well that thou art a Samaritan, and hast a devil?” To which our Lord responds, “I have not a devil; but I honour my Father, and ye do dishonour me.  And I seek not mine own glory; there is one that seeketh and judgeth. Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death.” The eternal Son of God offers eternal life, and yet they cannot believe: ""Before Abraham was, I am," he claims for himself the "I AM" of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He declares that he is the God of the burning bush and of the commandments who by the incarnation has been made man. Jesus of Nazareth is God, the Eternal Son of the Father in heaven, and because he is the Christ, the promised Messiah come to save the world. On the day that our Lord declared himself to be the God of Abraham, his enemies simply would not believe and thereby refused to love. They sought to kill him by stoning, declaring his Truth a blasphemy. “If I say the truth, why do ye not believe me?” Unbelief kills. Faith loves. Without faith, without covenant trust, love cannot abide and certainly cannot grow. Love trusts and is trustworthy. Know it is in whom you believe. Let go of fear, cast aside any and all trepidation in loving Christ… he will not reject nor ridicule, belittle or devalue, for he loves you with an unending and perfect love. Good Friday is all the proof needed to know that this is true.

A proper understanding of Good Friday tells us that the final word on the Lord’s blessed passion isn’t DEATH; far from it! The final word is LOVE. For at Calvary Christ "suffered for sins, the just for the unjust…" Yes, our Lord endured unspeakable pain and sorrow. But St. Peter continues... "that he might bring us to God…” And hear St. Paul... “by the cross, we have been "reconciled in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before the Father holy and blameless and beyond reproach.” And again, by the will of the Father, "we have been sanctified through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The eternal Son of heaven made man gladly obeyed the Father’s will. The Son believed and trusted the Father who had sent him, who sent Him to die for the sins of the world, and not to simply taste death naturally as all men do, but to die a death on Roman Cross. “And having been obedient unto death, he has become a greater and more perfect High Priest.” Jesus passed through the heavenly tabernacle carrying not the blood of bulls and goats, but his own perfect and precious blood. He alone has redeemed you from death by death. His body broken for you, his blood poured out for you. It is glorious. It is lovely. It is good.

Beloved, the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is a journey into sorrow but it is the way that leads to life today, right now, right here because the blood of Christ can purge your consciences of shame and guilt. It is the gateway unto presently living the abundant life: a life that is not your own but as a gift given back to the Giver; life which we completely owe to God; a life that demands our love, our fidelity. It is the means to a life that is filled with promise, a promise of an eternal inheritance in the unshakable kingdom of God, that happy place awaiting all who remain faithful to the Bridegroom, who in chastity and fidelity forsake all else. Therefore, when we contemplate the death of Jesus Christ during this Passiontide, we are also contemplating our life. The more of Christ’s Passion that we share with him, the more life that will be in us. And the best possible use of the next two weeks is that we should become so full of the death of Jesus Christ that each of us will also find ourselves overflowing with the new life that he gives by this one, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice of Himself.

In the coming sorrows of Good Friday and the encroaching hopelessness of Holy Saturday, let us hold fast to this truth: Christ is not gone we are not abandoned. Rather, He has entered into the presence of the Father in the holy of holies. And we have entered by faith as well into the place of God’s dwelling, into the joy and certainty of the Divine Life. In the dark days and times of discouragement let us hold fast to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who says,

"Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Amen.

Be Our Defense

THIRD SUNDAY IN LENT

The Pre-Lenten ‘Gesima Sundays’ wisely draw our attention to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love), in doing so, the church in her wisdom prepares her children for spiritual battle: warring against the world, the flesh and the devil. For though our Lenten devotion of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving draws us deeper towards the grace and mercy of Christ, we also become more and more vulnerable to the schemes of the Devil, and quite often experience a greater susceptibility to sin. The appointed Gospels for the first three weeks of Lent make this clear. Each Gospel is about the great conflict between Jesus the Son of God and the powers of darkness, namely Satan and his evil cohorts! It is not by chance that Satan, the devil himself and his minions, are the central antagonists in each of these Gospel lessons.  

On the first Sunday, Jesus confronts the Devil in the Judaean wilderness. Satan, with his insidious plans, tempts Jesus (of course he waits until the 40th day: the very apex of Christ’s hunger and thirst… That wicked serpent!), “If you’re hungry, turn these stones to bread: feed yourself!” And, “Prove to me who you are, throw yourself off the top of this tower, didn’t your Father say his angels will protect you?” And finally, “Do you desire the worship of the nations? Then simply bow down and worship me, and I’ll give you the praise and glory of men!” But Jesus stands his ground never giving an inch. Jesus Christ, the second Adam, overcomes the very Tempter himself.

Last Sunday, Jesus cast out a demon from a young girl, the daughter of a Canaanite woman. In faith, the woman called out to Jesus to heal her daughter, “O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” and in turn Jesus exerted his divine power, and from a distance, bound and cast the demon far from the girl, healing her, making her whole again.

And today, our Gospel reading from St. Luke records Jesus exorcising a rather nasty demon from a deaf-mute man. Yet, some of the bystanders wrongly see the power of Satan at work in Jesus’ miracle. Suffering from an acute case of spiritual farsightedness, they cannot see God at work in and through Jesus! Amazed they say, “He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils.”  Others in the crowd tempt him, demanding he perform some sign from heaven to prove his authority is truly of God: now where have we seen that tactic before!

But Jesus rebukes them, “But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you!” They didn’t have the spiritual vision graced to Peter enabling him to recognize Jesus for who he really was. Jesus asked the Apostle, “But who do you say that I am? And Peter answered, “You are the Christ.” And yet, within minutes, Christ rebukes him, “get behind me Satan. You [Peter] are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but on man’s.” Now, of course Jesus wasn’t saying that Peter is Satan. But, Peter’s rebuking of Jesus for openly talking about his forthcoming crucifixion and death, attempting to impede what Christ came to earth to accomplish is exactly what Satan lives to do. In that moment, Peter is an accomplice to evil, the devil’s tool, put in play to upend Jesus’ divine mission. Three Sundays and three confrontations with the Devil and his demonic hosts.

In the words of the reformer 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.” We would be well served this morning to heed St Peter’s warning to, “Be sober-minded; [to] be watchful. [For our] adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour…” The Enemy is cunning. He is deceitful. He is wicked. Has he has purposed himself to destroy us. We, who at our baptism were released from the bondage of sin, renounced the Devil and his works. We, who vowed to keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of our lives. Yes, the Devil, our Enemy, desires to devour the children of God. Thus by this ancient Collect appointed for this 3rd Sunday of Lent we pray for God to “stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies!” Enemy number one: the Devil himself.

Now, today’s Collect would have been prayed in the 3rd and 4th centuries by candidates preparing for Easter vigil baptism; those coming into the Christian community commonly called catechumens. At the beginning of Lent, the baptismal Candidates would be brought before the Bishop to be examined prior to their enrollment. If given a good report from neighbors, and with no objections from others, the Bishop would personally write their name in a book listing all those approved to begin preparing for baptism over the 40 days of lent. Having been approved and their names written in the Bishop’s book, they would then be ‘exorcised’, their souls being “swept clean” if you will, cleansed of any influence of the devil, freeing their hearts and minds, to begin preparing for the indwelling grace of God given in Holy Baptism.

And so, having been exorcised of Satan’s hold, the first several weeks of a catechumens Lenten preparation were seen as entering into conflict with Satan, like Christ in the desert who confronted the tempter and overcame. The conflict culminating at Easter Eve baptisms where the baptized would renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, and by faith pledge their allegiance to Christ, entering into His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sins: born again into the household of God.

We can see how the epistles and Gospels appointed for these first three weeks of Lent would have kept these baptismal candidates on their toes: sober, watchful, anticipating and engaging in 40 days of battle with the Devil. And I submit that our Lenten journey is no less perilous: the battle no less real. Lent is a battle. It is an intensified battle to defeat sin and cultivate virtue. The casting out of sin, and the acquisition of virtue… This is what we strive for through our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.  

The spiritual battle rages. And especially during lent. We find ourselves struggling with old sins, with new sins, with unforeseen temptations… the thought-life so easily gravitating towards what it should not. Perhaps the words of St. Paul are hitting very close to home these days, “the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Rom 7:190-21). As CS Lewis said, “the main thing we learn from any serious attempt to practice the Christian virtues is that we fail.”

Yes, our battle is against the world, the flesh and the devil, but our principal enemy is the devil. He is the primary foe who is reinforced by two powerful allies: the world and the flesh. Don’t you find that he works through both of these? The enticements of the world: “worship me and I will give you the glory of the nations!” And he works weakness of the flesh: “If you’re hungry, turn these stones to bread…” he’s saying “go ahead, satisfy your desire, eat.” He knows our vulnerabilities, he knows the flesh is weak.

Satan, ‘the prince of the air’, diffuses his power most often through the moral atmosphere. His enticements and temptations seizing on the weakness of the flesh, our unholy desires producing sin manifested in wrong choices and shameful actions: the sins of the body. And this is why in this morning's epistle St Paul exhorts us not to participate in the sins of the flesh, to not even discuss them, “But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting… Be not partakers with them. For ye were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of the light.”

Keep in mind, desire in itself is not sin, but even good desires which emanate from within the heart and the will all too often produce unfruitful works of darkness, the very works St. Paul warns against. In baptism, original sin, guilt, and culpability are destroyed: but an innate weakness still remains. There is an imbalance in us, a desire to do good but a base nature that is still in process; being perfected. St Augustine calls this disharmony concupiscence: or, an irrational propensity towards unholy desires which manifest in sin. Because of concupiscence we reason wrongly and our wills chase after less desirable things. This is our struggle.

The Christian desires the good life and yet sins in the very pursuit of it! Our nature, though being sanctified by the Holy Spirit, has lost its ability to see clearly. And this is why carnal desires so easily overthrow reason, because concupiscence has caused the mind to lose its ability to see true happiness. Evil institutes itself into the imaginative mind, where our concupiscent soul takes pleasure in the evil thought, and in our weakness, the flesh succumbs to the thing. And the Devil takes every advantage of our vulnerability. With St Paul we cry out, “unhappy man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death!”

What we need is reformation. We are constantly in need of a personal reforming of the soul, reordering- by grace- what concupiscence has disordered. You see, to be cleansed of sin at baptism simply isn’t enough. A soul swept-clean by the power of Christ must not remain empty but filled with goodness, righteousness, and holiness. This is what today’s Gospel teaches us: even where Satan has been once cast out, if the soul remain empty, he will return again “taking with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself.”

A soul swept clean must not remain empty. Lent is a special time to strip away the peripherals from our lives, remove all the clutter. We remove during lent but will also put back! The soul must not remain empty but filled with virtue. It must cultivate holy desires that produce fruit becoming of the Children of the light. Virtue comes from rightly ordered love’s, where we behold and love Christ, the Supreme Good, and in doing so learn how to rightly love all the other lesser goods, created by God, which he has so freely and generously given. Loving Christ teaches us how to rightly love everything. Sin springs forth from the empty soul that neglects to love God, the Supreme Good. This is the heart of evil: the heart that prefers the lesser over the Supreme.

The soul filled with Christ is that which produces virtue, fruit in keeping with the Children of light: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Learning to love God above all else is a continual work of grace: for we cannot reorder our own souls. With St. Augustine we pray, “Lord give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will!” In other words, God if you want me to love, then give me by grace the will to love what is lovely! We cannot of our own strength reorder what concupiscence disorders, neither can we defend ourselves from Satan. What we desperately need is God’s Grace to do God’s will; to “walk as children of the light”; we need the grace of God obtained through prayer.

How often the Book of Common Prayer leads us to pray for God to give us grace! With humility and that same desperate faith of the Canaanite woman we too must cry out for almighty God to “look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies!” Praying with desires as hearty as the Canaanite woman, with a humility as profound and genuine as hers… how can our Lord not answer the sincere prayers of our hearts? Have we not heard this promise ring from the words of the Psalmist? “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a contrite heart and will save such as be of an humble spirit. Great are the troubles of the righteous; but the Lord delivereth him out of all.”

From God’s right of hand of Majesty comes both power and sympathy. Sympathy because Jesus took upon himself all the weaknesses of our flesh and was tempted in every conceivable way and is now seated on the right hand of the Majesty on high: Jesus understands your frailty and empathizes with your struggles. Be comforted today. From the glorified right hand of the Majesty on high flows waves of compassion and unending mercy: His property is always to have mercy.

Power, because Christ was raised from the grave, he is the ascended and exalted savior who overcame the temptation of the flesh and defeated Satan for us, slaying that evil Goliath through his sacrificial death, destroying Satan who had the power of death. The Lord of all, has dominion over all, he is our strong tower, our defense against the evil one. Be confident in this. Beloved, may grace reorder our souls, may our souls be filled with virtue, and may God protect us from the Evil one. Let us pray,

WE beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants, and stretch forth the right hand of thy Majesty, to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

The fourteenth Sunday After Trinity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feast of the Transfiguration

A MEDITATION ON THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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