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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Our Heavenly Family

16th Sunday in Trinity 2017
Grace and Glory: the whole family in heaven and earth

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Oct. 1, 2017
Examining St. Paul’s Epistle selection from Ephesians, one comes to a very interesting and wonderful conclusion: Christianity offers us something we can’t get from anybody else. God offers us something that is truly unique. What might that be, one might ask? After all, those of us Christians who are truly committed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ already trust in Him for our salvation. Those of us who partake of the holy mystery of the Eucharist already have a deep abiding faith in our eternal life with Him. If we have this saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, what else need God give us? After all, this wonderful sense of our salvation through Christ is really the “big idea” of Christianity. Right? What else could God give us?

First of all, Paul tells the congregation at Ephesus to “faint not at my tribulations for you.” This may refer to the trouble that he suffered at Ephesus spreading the Gospel. Recall that Ephesus contained one of the great worship centers to Diana, the Greco-Roman huntress-goddess. She was worshipped everywhere. In fact, there was a lucrative trade in silver Diana statuettes, shrines and necklaces flourishing in that city. In Acts 19 we learn of the craftsmen’s concern that, with the appearance of Paul and this “new” religion, their “craft is in danger to be set at nought.”1 Thus, the great uproar that caused Paul and his companions to be dragged into the city’s amphitheater, where, the crowd cheered Diana for about three hours before the town magistrate finally broke it up.

St. Paul mentions that his tribulations are “your glory.” He actually rejoices in suffering for the Lord Jesus! Paul then follows this up with the wonderful statement, (Ephesians 3:15) “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,”

This is a key point. We mentioned that only God could give us something that nobody else could. Could this be it? Could this be the one thing that only God can give us? Yes! Only God in Christ can give us the one thing that will never pass away: a true, permanent and eternal family. Through Christ, we become members in the one family relationship that is not tainted by death, decay or sin. Only God in Christ can give us the true family in which there never will be any rancor or disagreement. Imagine that. Imagine a loving family that never passes away and is never “dysfunctional”, to use a modern term.

Is such a thing even possible? Those of us who have had some family friction simply shake our heads. How God could frame His heavenly organization in such a fashion, knowing the failings to which all families are prone?

The difference is this: we talking about the fallen families of man, with all the nastiness, anger, greed and self-service that they imply. On the other hand, how about the perfected, glorified company of the saints? In Heaven, we have the perfect, joyous group of the Church Triumphant, contrasted with the faint earthly reflection of it here. After all, the best things on Earth are but a faint reflection of things in heaven. Thus, imagine the very best family gathering you ever experienced, magnified to an infinite degree. Imagine being with a group of people withwhom you will never disagree, have any conflict, or a troublesome situation.

Another corollary to this is the situation of the orphan. Consider those who have never had a family. Those poor, isolated souls who have never had the embrace of a family’s love, flawed though it is, will have the fullest expression of familial love in its perfection.

Aside from the familiar aspect of Heaven, consider the fact that our growth in Heaven will never end. We will know and enjoy God for all Eternity. Our growth in holiness, however, begins here. John Calvin once said, “The highest perfection of the godly in this life is an earnest desire to make progress. This strengthening, he tells us, is the work of the Spirit; so that it does not proceed from man’s own ability. The increase, as well as the commencement, of everything good in us, comes from the Holy Spirit.”2

Calvin’s point, and that of the Epistle selection, is really one of grace. Citing an O.T. reading from Deuteronomy, the major realization we must make as Christians is that God set his grace upon us, not because of our deserving, but because of His ebullient Love for us.

This brings us back to relationship and from there, back to family. God our Father, Christ our Brother, and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier, all desire to have you in their company for all eternity. This is simply amazing. As the inspired Word of God tells us, God desires a close, personal relationship with us.

How does this happen? How can we enter into such a relationship with our Lord and Master? Once again, we ask, perhaps in stupefied amazement, how is such a thing possible? Turning back to Calvin, he says: “This deserves our careful attention. Most people consider fellowship with Christ, and believing in Christ, to be the same thing; but the fellowship which we have with Christ is the consequence of faith.” Completely agreeing with this, St. Paul says that he wishes that we all, ”according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;”3
This “might” of which St. Paul speaks is the power that comes from faith. This is the faith that we have a Heavenly Father who, through the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Christ, always hears our prayers, supplications, thanksgivings and praises. This is the faith that allows us to call upon God for all our needs, big and small. Finally, it is the faith that allows us to cherish a relationship with the Almighty that is both strengthening and nourishing to our souls and spirits. What is the result of this faith? Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling that all will be OK? Is it a merely a vague, feel-good sensation?

By no means! This is the faith that makes alive. This is the faith that procures strength when we think that we cannot go on. It is the faith that allows us to experience real, life-changing fellowship with God. Returning once more to John Calvin, hear these words of wisdom and perception: “No man can approach to God without being raised above himself and above the world. On this ground the sophists refuse to admit that we can know with certainty that we enjoy the grace of God; for they measure faith by the perception of the bodily senses. But Paul justly contends that this wisdom exceeds all knowledge; for, if the faculties of man could reach it, the prayer of Paul that God would bestow it must have been unnecessary.”

The result of this faith is that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, and that we are “rooted and grounded” in love. When we reach a realization of Christ’s love for us, we too may “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” In other words, our faith will allow us to recognize the immensity of God’s love for us, as much as humanly possible. It is our humble opinion that we flawed humans, so hopelessly marred by sin and rebellion, cannot possibly understood the infinite degree of God’s love for us.

Yet, we must try. We must seize God’s love for us and cling to it, knowing that because God so loves us, we can love others and ourselves. We are actually unable to love others until, through the Grace of God, we are able to love ourselves completely in Christ. This overwhelming love of God for us is then projected to others…

It is at this point that we begin to grow into the person God wants. Not weak, but strong in faith. Not hateful, but strong in love. Not faithless, but faithful in God through Christ. Not sorrowful, but moving through the sorrow of this fallen world in joy and hope.

Listen to this wonderful closing benediction from the end of the 3rd chapter of Ephesians: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”4

Amen, and amen ...
1 Acts 19:24-26
2 Calvin, John, “Commentary on Ephesians 3”
3 Ibid

4 Eph. 3:21-21

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rejection and Grace

14th Sunday after Trinity 

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
September 17, 2017

Micah 6:1 Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.

Our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Micah is amazing. Why? It is amazing because when one hears the lesson with the new ears of Christ, one hears wonderful, yet poignant things. One alsoe sees an amazing picture of God and Man. In these eight verses we learn of the perversity of mankind counterbalanced by the overflowing love of God. We also learn what God truly wants from us.

One might, however, be tempted to question such a profound statement. After all, how can one see an Old Testament lesson through New Testament eyes? In other words, how can one see the Chosen People of God, governed by the Law, through the New Testament lens of grace? This is the crux of the matter, yet when we consider Scripture as a single piece, like the woven cloak of Christ – without seam - the issue becomes more transparent.

Let us consider how this passage reveals our paucity of spirit, contrasted with God’s infinite well of grace. Hear this amazing statement, “Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.”1 The prophet commands the mountains to hear the Lord’s “controversy” with His People. He beckons verbally to the strong foundations of the earth to heed the controversy.

What is the nature of this conflict? What could be so extreme that God is willing to “plead” with Israel? Why would Almighty God have His prophet use such language? The cause is one of extreme injustice and lack of love towards God. Israel has, by this time in history, so corrupted herself with paganism and hypocrisy that God is willing to “plead” with her.
The Jews have so alienated themselves from the Covenant that they have smitten God to the heart; so that Micah asks, “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.”2 Do our ears deceive us? Through His prophet, is this God Himself asking his wayward people how He has wearied them?

Recall that this is a people who have become infatuated with every corrupt Canaanite religion, all of them involving ritual drunkenness and ritual fornication, let alone the gross idolatry associated with them. Jewish homes had various pagan images in them, and the great Temple itself was a hotbed of idolatry. Some Jews were even indulging in the vile practice of ritual infanticide to satisfy the Canaanite gods. Meanwhile, our God asks how He has wearied them? It would be laughableIf it were not so very serious.

Yet we know how serious it is. So much so, that Micah has stopped preaching to the people and instead, addresses the hills, mountains, and earth! The People have become so stiff-necked and so hard-hearted that evidently there is no longer any point in addressing them.3 As further evidence of this, John Calvin mentions that the mighty prophet Isaiah was Micah’s contemporary, actually preaching and ministering at the same time.4 Israel’s situation was so bad that God sent two prophets simultaneously to bring the message of repentance and salvation, if only the people would reject their obsession with idolatry. We know from history how bad Israel’s state was, as God finally executed judgment upon them by the hand of the cruel Assyrians.

Having the luxury of looking back at history, we see how strictly the Jews were punished and conversely, how fierce was God’s love for them. It was so strong and so passionate that God Hmself would actually “plead” with His People. God Himself knew how dreadful and how merciless the Jews’ treatment would be in the days to come. He knew how greatly they would suffer for their idolatry.

We see this clearly in God’s patience with them and the untiring efforts of many prophets sent to turn them from their paganism. Yet, as we know from history, the Israelites would continue in their sin cycle until God’s patience was finally exhausted.

Now, we know that God is incapable of being hurt, or suffering rejection, or even having anger and rage. He simply is, in complete serenity. Yet, in order to understand Him even a little, perhaps it is necessary to anthropomorphize, that is, give him human attributes so that we can relate. We know in our innermost being that God sees all of eternity as a single glance, in which His glory is preordained for all time. Yet, in our finite, fractured way we need to think that God feels what we feel. Of course, in the case of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, we know exactly how He felt, because He was one of us. He experienced everything we experience, every joy, sorrow, and temptation, yet without sin.

we know one thing more. We know that God is capable of love that transcends our understanding. He is capable of showing such patience with us that he will hold his mighty Wrath for literally hundreds of years. How do we know this?

This is illustrated very clearly in the passage is God’s treatment of His People. Not only did He deliver them from bondage in Egypt, but he set before them great leaders such as Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Moses was once a great prince in Egypt, and became a prophet and a lawgiver. Aaron was the first of a priestly line that guided Israel. In addition, for all those who think that God is a misogynist, consider the mention of Miriam here, a prophetess and great leader in her own right. In short, God’s People didn’t lack for leadership.

At this point, one may ask, if God so loves his People, how could he allow them to pass through such massive suffering, which was to transpire in the relatively near future? How can a loving God allow this? Two answers suffice for this. First, we know that God’s ultimate Holiness cannot be mocked indefinitely. God’s People could not claim the benefits of the Covenant, that is protection and grace, and still engage in flagrant violation of His laws. At some point, God’s integrity must be reaffirmed in the hearts of his People. Without being tedious, we know that God had to punish His People in order to show that.
His judgment was not done not out of cruelty, vengeance, or even retribution, but out of infinite love. Rather than lose the souls of his People to eternal perdition, he chose to chasten and correct them, so that they might turn to Him.

Yet Man, being Man, always wants to be in control in some way. In fact, Man wants to justify himself in the eyes of God. The Jews, given their ritual system of sacrifice and purification, became the ultimate participants in this game of seeking favor from God. In fact, the Jews not only sought favor from God, they actually demanded it from Him. Their supposed righteousness in following the sacrificial system actually made God a debtor in their eyes. They thought that God owed them forgiveness and expiation of sin because of their righteousness.

Yet, the prophet asks, “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”5 What does the Lord really care for our religious acts, especially when they are based in arrogance, self-righteousness, or pride? Does anyone really think that God took pleasure in some poor beast’s death in order to wipe away a man’s sin? We think not. Sacrifices merely served to remind man that consequences always exist for sin, not to please God with the shedding of blood.
We come at last to God’s expectation of us. Is this more sacrifices and gallons of holy oil? No, rather He wants a transformation of the heart and spirit. He wants us to walk uprightly, yet humbly before Him. He wants us, in short: “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”6

What an amazing requirement! He wants us to echo His own qualities of love, of mercy and of good will without pride or self-righteousness. He wants us to be reflectors of Him and to let His Light shine through us to the World.

If we do this, it is better than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
1 Mic. 6:1
2 Mic. 6:3
3 Calvin, Commentary on Micah ,
4 Ibid
5 Micah 6:6-7

6 Ibid 6:8

Friday, August 4, 2017

Glory and Appearance

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Transfiguration, 2017

Last week we read about Abraham being called upon to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Although in God’s ultimate mercy, he was not required to complete the act, only to show a willingness to do so. Abraham was foreshadowing the complete sacrifice God the Father would perform for us in Jesus. From this, we see that sacrifice is a key theme in Christianity to repair relationships.
In this week’s Gospel, we hear of an event that changed three of the Apostles, James, John and Peter's relationship to Christ. In this passage, we see Christ and the apostles going up into a high mountain, where he is transfigured before them. He is changed from being the great Teacher into something else: deity. From this time on, none of these three men could see Christ in the same way as before.
Imagine the scene: up on the mountain, Christ begins to pray, and as he does, His clothing begins to glisten and whiten, and his face was changed. He is glorified. Next, two men appear with him, Moses and Elijah, who also are in a glorified state. The engage Christ in conversation, talking with Him about his upcoming death in Jerusalem.
The situation is very rich in symbolism and meaning, It affected how the Disciples saw Christ, and how we should see him today.
First, Christ's appearance is not something of this world. His face and clothing take on a otherworldly shine; in fact they “glisten.” What does this mean? Simply, that for a while, Jesus took on a glorified nature, or as one commentator says, a foretaste of the glory to come. He is no longer just Jesus the Man, but now shows his divine nature as Christ the Lord. He appears in a non-earthly form that only those of another realm can take. The disciples cannot make any other claim.
Next, Jesus is joined by two men, Moses and Elijah. This is important to us for at least two reasons. First, it shows Jesus as the living bridge between the Old Testament and the New. Moses represents the Law, while Elijah represents the Prophets.
Here are two pillars of the Old Testament meeting with Him who will establish the New Testament in His Blood.. The validity of the Old and New together is affirmed.
Second, it shows us that the saints of the Old Testament Church will be saved. Moses and Elijah's presence with Jesus affirms this. This is important, for it shows that someday, in God's own time, the vail will be taken away from the Jews' recognition of Jesus. They will see Jesus as the Messiah, and in so doing, will embrace salvation. What we do not know is when.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: how do we see Jesus? Do we see Him merely as the great Teacher? Do we see Him as the great social revolutionary? Do we see him as the compassionate healer?
Yes, we should see him as all of these ways. Yet, there is one more way we must see Jesus in light of this Biblical passage. Recall the last two great happenings in this passage. First, a cloud overshadowed them, causing them great concern, even fear. Many scholars agree that this was the great Glory Cloud that covered the Tabernacle in the wilderness and actually prevented Moses from entering.1 It also filled the Temple and was so dense that even the priests could not minister in it. Called the Shikinah Glory Cloud, it is believed to contain thousands and thousands of saints and heavenly beings. Out of the cloud came a great voice. This voice said, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
Considering these events from Scripture, I ask you again: how are we to see Jesus? The answer should be plain. Not just the great Teacher, not just the great Healer, but who He really is, the Son of God. Keep in mind that this event happened a little over a week after Peter's confession that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter was given the faith to say that. Now, in God's glorious Will, Peter actually sees Jesus in His glorified state, as God. What a glorious gift that was!
We should do the same. Yes, we should admire Jesus the sinless man, while we worship Jesus as the true and only Son of God. There is only one Christ, perfect man and perfect God. We Christians are blessed to know both, through the wonderful words of Scripture, and the glorious Sacrament of the Altar. The words of the Bible tells us who He is, and the Sacrament lets us unite with Him in a real and very personal way. Amen.

1Matthew Henry, Luke 9

Right Thinking and Repentance

9th Sunday in Trinity 2017

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
August 13, 2017

We read a very serious O.T, today from Ezekiel. It speaks of the gross ingratitude of man in response to the graciousness of God.

Let's discuss some information about Ezekiel himself. According to noted O.T. scholars Keil and Delitszch, Ezekiel,” יחזקאל Vulgate Ezechiel, while Luther, after the example of the lxx, writes the name Hesekiel, was the son of Busi, of priestly descent, and was carried away captive into exile to Babylon in the year 599 b.c. - i.e., in the eleventh year before the destruction of Jerusalem - along with King Jehoiachin, the nobles of the kingdom, many priests, and the better class of the population of Jerusalem and of Judah (Eze 1:2; Eze 40:1; cf. 2Ki 24:14.; Jer 29:1). He lived there in the northern part of Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Chaboras, married, and in his own house, amidst a colony of banished Jews, in a place called Tel-abib (Eze 1:1; Eze 3:15, Eze 3:24; Eze 8:1; Eze 24:18). In the fifth year of his banishment, i.e., 595 b.c., he was called to be a prophet of the Lord, and laboured in this official position, as may be shown, twenty-two years; for the latest of his prophecies is dated in the twenty-seventh year of his exile, i.e., 572 b.c. (Eze 29:17).”i

Ezekiel was a witness to the fulfillment of God’s prophecy concerning Israel and Judah. Beginning in Deuteronomy and continuing through all of the books prior to Ezekiel, the Jews had heard the same message again and again; stay in covenant with Almighty God, or suffer the consequences. This message they ignored and continued to run after false gods and various pagan religious practices, including ritual drunkenness and ritual fornication. They worshipped the Baals and Ashtoreth, as well as Chemosh and Milcom, who were the abominable idols of the Canaanites. We learn in Ezekiel that the elders of the Jews had even carved out secret rooms in the Temple of Solomon where they offered incense to various idols.

We know the history that followed Israel’s and Judah spiritual whoredom. First, the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were carried away and dispersed into the vast Assyrian Empire as a result of their gross idolatry. Next, the Babylonian suzerain Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and carried away the “cream of the crop”, so to speak, of Judah. The Prophet Daniel was among those carried away. King Jehoiakim became a tributary. Failing to see God’s Hand in their tribulations, this king rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, whereupon he marched again to Jerusalem, besieged it, and eventually took it again. This time, the Babylonian king carried away the king, his court, and many of the skilled artisans, warriors, priests and carpenters. He left a remnant of the people, over which he appointed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah, whom he renamed Zedekiah. This occurred during the prophecy of Jeremiah, who warned the people repeatedly of their fate if they did not repent. Meanwhile, the various false prophets concurrent with him were prophesying prosperity and peace. As we know, Jeremiah was eventually proved right, although he was accused of speaking treason against the king and was imprisoned.

After the second fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah, speaking for God, told the people to bear the Babylonian yoke with patience and all would be well with them. Even at this point, the leaders of Judah refused to hear the Word of God, but instead rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, broke their treaty with him and turned to Egypt for help, the very nation which held them in slavery for 400 years.
This was absurd and futile. The Egyptians were smashed by the Babylonians, and now perfidious Jerusalem was to feel the full fury of Nebuchadnezzar, who had been remarkably restrained up to this point. His forces marched back to Jerusalem and besieged it again. Eventually, the city was starved out. The walls of Jerusalem were breached, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the city was completely destroyed. The fabulous Temple of Solomon was thoroughly looted and destroyed as well. Nebuchadnezzar left Jerusalem a smoking heap of stones.

As we know from the book of Jeremiah, Zedekiah, his court, and his top military men tried to escape through a hole in the wall. They were captured and brought to Riblah. Here, Zedekiah’s sons were killed before his eyes, and Zedekiah himself was blinded.
He was led in chains back to Babylon, where he spent his days as a captive, subject king to Nebuchadnezzar. Judah as a nation had been effectively destroyed.ii

In the section of Ezekiel we read today the destruction of Jerusalem, had not happened yet. The final blow had not yet been struck against the heart of Judah. Yet, we see in the reading that the mindset that would lead to it was very much present among the exiles to which Ezekiel was attached. In this passage, God speaks of those who take success as their own, without any recognition of the goodness of God. The elders of Israel came to Ezekiel seeking the counsel of God, yet their innermost hearts and spirits were not of God. In fact, they had put the stumbling block of their idolatry in front of the faces and had idolatry in their heart, even while they were seeking the counsel of God. Obviously, they were “hedging their bets”, so to speak. They obviously wanted to enjoy the notorious sensuality and wanton-ness of their pagan practices, while pretending to be holy towards the God of Israel. This cannot be.

Our God is a holy God, who will not tolerate our allegiance to any sort of idolatry. He will not allow His Glory to be diffused with another. He cannot allow His Holiness to be diluted in a believer’s heart, or to be mixed with an idol of any sort, if one is to enjoy true fellowship with Him. If we have deep hatred, animosity, or unrepented sin abiding in us when we enter the House of God, we cannot offer a worthy sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because our spiritual selves are in turmoil due to sin. One may, like these elders of Israel, go through the motions of religiosity, yet never really get close to God.

The purpose of religion is not merely to do ritualistic things for God, but to develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Holy Trinity. Thus, when Christ speaks in Luke 17:21 regarding the Kingdom of God, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” This is very akin to the statement Jesus made in John 14:23 where he says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This certainly sounds like a relationship situation to me.

This sense of relationship is exactly what is missing from the Jewish elders with whom Ezekiel dealt. God is not minded to listen to them because they are not really interested in a relationship with Him. They only want to use God to get what they want, or to hear what they want. They want to hear are the words of the false prophets saying, “Peace, Peace”, when there is no peace. Eventually, through Ezekiel, God told them that He will turn His face from those who deceive themselves with idols and will remove them from their land. This will be done not out of cruelty, but rather out of chastisement, so that Judah would eventually repent herself of her idolatry.

As later history would prove, God did remove Judah from the Promised Land. Judah did repent and was restored, but to a lesser degree until the time of the Ptolemeys. By this time, the Jews were so against idolatry that it led to the rise of the Pharisees, who became jealous guardians of the Law.

The point for today is that we too must remove any idols in our hearts, or any stumbling blocks of iniquity that impede our relationship with Almighty God. All of us have them, and for us to enjoy the fullest fellowship with God, they must be removed. The Holy Spirit will keep pointing to them until one of two things happens. Either we, with the help of the Holy Ghost, remove them in order to enjoy a fuller experience with God, or we will grow hardened in our sinfulness until a fuller relationship loses its value to us.

Pray God that this does not happen to any of us, because it had serious consequences. Rather than experiencing the wonderful fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, contentment, godliness and self control, we will bear the evil fruit of our natural natures: hate, discontent, malice, unease, fear, and infidelity.

In the words of St. Paul himself, he me! May it never be! We pray that all of us may continue to take daily inventory of ourselves and of our relationship with Almighty God in Christ. Unlike those idolatrous men in Ezekiel whom God would not hear, we will enjoy the warm spiritual embrace of our Heavenly Father. He will hear us. He will come to us and tabernacle with us. He will make His Face to shine upon us. Through His blessed Holy Spirit, He will give us peace, now and forever.

i Kiel and Delitzsch, “Ezekiel”, BW 7.0

ii ibid

“Charity shall cover a multitude of sins…”

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
Sunday after Ascension
May 28, 2017

1 Peter 4:7-8 “The end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover a multitude of sins.”

So speaks the Apostle Peter from the today’s Epistle selection. Coming from the most “human” and “real” Apostle, this is a wonderful and blessed statement. Peter is one figure that all of us can identify with in some way or another. If one has a bold or brash nature, or if one has acted boldly or brashly in their lifetime, (and who hasn’t?), there is Peter. If one has ever been afraid of telling the truth in the face of strong consequences, there is Peter. And yet, if one has ever boldly and firmly proclaimed, “Thou are the Christ; thou art the Son of the living God”, there is Peter as well.

Peter became a new and better man AFTER his denial of Jesus Christ. Yet, unlike Judas Iscariot, who allowed Satan to tempt him into the depths of despair, something better happened to Peter. The Holy Spirit changed him into a leader of the apostolic band, at first in Jerusalem, and later in Rome. He became a pillar of the early Church, and went on to inspire and to lead the early Christians. Peter is a picture of what God can do with us when we allow Him to do so.

Thus, it is so fitting that Peter tells us,“Charity will cover a multitude of sins…” He is not speaking of merely the relief of the poor and needy. He is speaking of the form of love termed “caritas” in the Greek. Unlike the other forms of love: eros (romantic, sensual love), agape (fellowship), and philios (brotherly love), caritas is something else, and may be the most interesting of all. Why might we say that?

Charity is more complex and many-faceted than the other forms of love The romantic will disavow this, as will the socialite; even the one concerned with making great strides in the betterment of mankind.Yet, if we consider each of the loves just mentioned, note that they have some reward or end in themselves.
The romantic seeks the possession of intimacy with the other person, while the one engaged in agape seeks fellowship and communal activities. The same goes for the one seeking to increase brotherhood and understanding, philios. There is a reward, or payback, in each of these. Not that any of this is bad; far from it. Instead, we bless God, and exclaim, “Ecce, quam bonum!” (Behold, what a good and wonderful thing it is….)

What we seek to do is to draw a distinction in the quality of love contained in caritas (charity). Why would St. Peter would tell us that it covers a multitude of sins? Consider this: charity has no end in itself, no inherent reward as eros, agape, or even philos do; thus, charity is more disinterested. Note that we said disinterested, not un-interested, for there is a huge difference. Charity seeks nothing but a benign view of all men and all situations. It seeks not to judge harshly or rashly. When Peter says it will cover a multitude of sins, he is on to something.

A charitable view frames one’s whole outlook on life and the World. Instead of having a harsh, judgmental outlook, one will have a milder, less caustic view of those around him. Instead of leaping to judgment or condemnation, one can “step back”, and allow the Holy Spirit to temper one’s own inherent acidity. This allows for a more moderate reaction to things, and perhaps even less heartburn…

When charity rules, it leads to that chief cardinal virtue in one’s daily activity. This makes life more pleasant for the person practicing charity, and for those that person meets, who might be on the receiving end of their scorn and denigration. Think of all the energy and stress it takes to be negative! Now, think of that same energy focused in a new, more positive direction…

Now, we come closer to what the Apostle means when he says that charity will cover “the multitude of sins.” Think of all the sins avoided when one practices, habitually, the virtue of charity. For a discussion of this, recall St. Paul’s stirring recap of charity found in Cor 13:4 1 Corinthians 13:1 - 14:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For 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. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

We cannot top that summation. Yet, even as St. Paul tells us about charity, he doesn’t tell us how to achieve it. When one considers Paul’s knowledge of the failings of man, learned through hard experience on his missionary journeys, one certainly knows charity doesn’t come from the heart of Man. No, there must be another source.

And so there is. As with all aspects of one’s walk with Jesus, it is one based on dependence and trust. We know how hard this is to hear and accept, yet it is true. We Christians have to continually let God form our behavior through godly submission to His Will for our lives. Without the “bridle of the Holy Spirit” on our rough and ready natures, charity is virtually impossible.

That is not to say that non-Christians can’t be charitable. We all know people, although not religious, who behave well and decently in their lives, even charitably. What we are saying is that their source of love comes from a humanistic source, perhaps based on agape or philos, but not necessarily caritas. Being human-based, it has its limits. True love inspired by the Holy Spirit is inexhaustible. There is a difference.

Let us celebrate the free, unlimited love of God expressed in charity. Here is where we see the difference, for as charity moves and is expressed, more pure love is shown. As the Holy Spirit moves in our lives and we allow the love of God inside us to focus outward, the condition of the world changes, just a bit, person by person.
When we accept the love of our Heavenly Father, it makes us more buoyant and joyful. When this love becomes so great, it spills out around our edges into the world beyond. That is when we can begin to practice charity habitually. Then, it is not the forced smile, or the “we should be nice, because we should” syndrome. It is real love, real charity, and real caritas for all we meet. That is when “charity shall cover a multitude of sins,” We have been transformed into different people, who live in love as their native state.

It doesn’t come from us. It comes from the One who suffered the worst the World could do to him, so that He could demonstrate love for it, and for us.

1 Corinthians 13:13 - 14:1 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Multitudes, Miracles and Mercy

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 2017

Our Gospel for the day is the story of an incredible miracle: the feeding of the four thousand. This miracle is recorded only in the Gospel accounts of Matthew and Mark. The other Gospel writers do not make a note of this amazing account, yet it is interesting that all four Gospels tell of the feeding of the five thousand. One can only surmise why…

Also, various differences abound between the two miracles. Some commentators have noted the difference in emphasis on Christ’s taking action, as opposed to the feeding of the 5,000, where Christ posed the question and the Disciples responded. In this case, Christ notes that the crowd has been with Him so long without food and has compassion on them. When He fed the five thousand, his motive for compassion was that they resembled sheep without a shepherd.1 In addition, other differences abound, such as the contrast between this group's being commanded to sit on the ground, whereas the five thousand sat on grass, because “there was much grass in the place.”2 This indicates to some scholars l that the locale was different, much more desolate, and/or it was a different time of year.3 In addition, the numbers here noted were fewer (four thousand vs. five thousand) and available supply of food larger (seven loaves vs. five and “a few” small fish vs. two).4

While these are interesting contrasts, they do not highlight the key difference between the two accounts. We must go back to St. Augustine to see the biggest contrast, namely that the people fed in this story were not primarily Jews, but Gentiles. This is significant. In this account, Jesus and his disciples have been passing by the Sea of Galilee, in the region of Decapolis. This region was comprised of ten cities of primarily Hellenistic culture. They were acquainted with the Jewish culture near to them, but were not tolerant of it. This was due in part to the Semitic practice of male circumcision, which they regarded as idolatrous, because it created imperfect physical specimens. The Jews, for their part, looked at the Greek emphasis on male/male relationships with horror and disgust, considering them as pedophiles and sodomites. Thus, one can see that this was a fertile breeding ground for conflict.

Yet, into this area, Christ spread his abundant mercy and compassion. Previously, in the 7th chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Christ healed a deaf man and a Syrophoenician woman, both Gentiles. He also castigated the Pharisees for their failure to notice the difference between ritual defilement and actual defilement, I.e. the difference between eating so-called “unclean” foods vs. defiling words and actions that come out of people. Now in this arena of Gentile activity, He confronts the Disciples’ own cultural bias: their complete distaste for the Gentile world. We have seen that this particular group has been with Christ for three days without food. He had been healing them of various ailments and diseases; evidently their utter need for this outweighed their need for food. Christ in His mercy observed their desperation for food, while noting that He didn’t want to send them away, for fear of many fainting on the way home. Yet, when Christ asks His Disciples about this, their response to Him is to answer with a question, almost flippantly, Mark 8:4”And his disciples answered him, From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”

Have they already forgotten the miracle feeding of the five thousand, which had previously occurred? Did they really not know Who was with them? Obviously, not. In addition, one commentator thinks that they were not that concerned about this group simply because they were Gentiles. Their attitude was, “Send them away”, or as Marie Antoinette once purportedly said to the malnourished French peasantry, “Let them eat cake!” While there is doubt she really said this, there is probably much less doubt as to the Disciples’ concern for this Gentile crowd. After all, they were Gentiles, possibly even Greeks, and thus a lower class of humanity. They were not the Chosen Ones.

Jesus Christ, in all His mercy and loving-kindness, does not make this distinction. All He knew is that here were four thousand souls, Jewish or not, who were very, very hungry. So in similar fashion to the feeding of the five thousand, he had the people sit, took what food was available, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples for distribution. In the end, all eat and are satisfied. How glorious that simple meal must have been! Looking at the entire situation, how glorious must have Christ’s Presence among them! If one is able to hold together a crowd of 4,000 people for three days without sustenance and yet without coercion, how incredible this is. Only one man could do this, Jesus Christ.

We should give thanks for this account of Scripture. We should give thanks for it because it indicates our inclusion in the heavenly family. It indicates without doubt that we “wild olive branches” have been grafted into the true Vine of hope and salvation.5 Finally, if for no other reason, we should give thanks because it also foreshadows the great sacrifice at Calvary yet to come. If Christ had not meant to save us Gentile sheep, this feeding wouldn’t have happened. It is even more remarkable in the face of Christ’s own words, when He said, Matthew 15:24 24 "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."

This statement seems incredible at first, but it was necessary for Jesus to be sent to Israel first. Not only to fulfill all Biblical prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah, which is critical, but also that the Jews be given the first chance to hear the Good News. In the impenetrable mystery of God, they chose to reject it; at least their leaders did. This too was meant in some strange and mysterious way.

It is only fitting that God’s Chosen People have the bittersweet duty of offering up the One, Perfect, and Complete Sacrifice, Jesus the spotless Lamb of God, even if they didn’t know it at the time. In fact, most Jews still don’t recognize it, because it has not suited God the Father to remove the “veil” over their hearts and minds. Their leaders meant Jesus’ death as a means of ridding themselves of a problem. It was Caiphas the Chief Priest who said, “…it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not”.6 Unbeknownst to them, God also had a plan of ridding the world of a problem, the problem of sin.

We Christians know that we are indeed free from sin; not that we don’t commit it, for all of us sin everyday in some fashion or another. Yet, we are free from sin because we are able, because of Christ’s sacrifice, to renounce sin’s power over us. Yes, we sin, but we can confess, repent and receive absolution through Christ our Lord. In time, as we continue this lifelong process, we sin less and less as we grow in holiness.

Will we ever cease from sinning? No, we will cease from sin only when we pass from the Church Militant on Earth into the Church Expectant and then finally, into the Church Triumphant in Heaven. Then, truly, you and I will rest from labor, from sin, and even from repentance. We shall be glorified; we shall be perfected.

We are not there yet. We still have the daily battle against the World, the Flesh and the Devil. We, like the disciples, have to battle with our own biases and our distastes for people and the things that they do. We too have to struggle against these things and we have to defeat them in the Name of Christ.

We challenge you to examine your motives and your impulses for these considerations. If they are godly, cherish them and be led by them. If they are not, cast them away. Life is too short to be spent in unworthy judgments. The life to come is too long to be forfeited, or to be lived in some inferior state, even in Heaven, due to unshriven earthly sin. This is a serious consideration.

Some two thousand years ago, Christ began the process of breaking through sin, prejudice, and ill will. He challenged his own disciples’ beliefs. He affirmed his own magnanimous, all merciful nature. He extended, almost by proxy, our possibility of salvation. He fed four thousand people.

Mark 8:8 So they did eat, and were filled: and they took up of the broken meat that was left seven baskets.”

1 Coffman Commentaries,
2 John 6:10
3 Cofman, op. cit.
4 Ibid
5 Rom 11: 17-21

6 John 11:50

“Ascension and Ascendance…”

St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Ascension Thursday, 2017

Acts 1:9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.”

Tonight we celebrate an important feast of the Christian year: the Feast of the Ascension. Ascension marks the end of Christ’s time on earth, or, as one commentator put it, it is the “capstone of his earthly ministry.” 1 It also clearly identifies Christ as Divine, as he is received up into glory in the sight of the disciples. It has important theological reasons for its pre-eminence as well. Chief among these is Christ’s physical ascension, as he took his body (and Man’s nature) to heaven with him.

One may surmise that if Christians really understood the significance of the Ascension, attendance would be high. If we really understood that the Ascension tells us that Christ isn't just another great Teacher, but is Lord and God, our churches would be full on this night.

First, let us recognize that the Ascension does sum up Christ’s ministry. He told his disciples, “I came from the Father and now I go back to the Father.” Christ came from on high, to tabernacle with us and to take our nature upon him. He was born naturally; he grew, matured, and became a man. He taught, healed, did miracles, drew crowds and amazed many. He gathered disciples, drew the ire of the Jewish authorities, was accused falsely and ultimately killed by sinful men.
If this was all, Jesus Christ would have been just another great man. But, we know that this was not all. On Easter morning, Christ rose from the dead, and showed that death had no power over Him. As St. Paul says in Colossians 2:15 15And having spoiled 1 principalities and powers, he 2 made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in 3 it.” The Geneva Bible notes say, “The cross was a chariot of triumph. No conqueror could have triumphed so gloriously in his chariot, as Christ did upon the cross.”
The Resurrection is the greatest phenomena that mortals can imagine. By it, man’s greatest nemesis, Death, is defeated. Yet, even the Resurrection is not enough to completely fulfill Christ’s Ministry. If He had risen from the dead, merely to spend another 70 or 80 years before succumbing to physical death, there would be no ultimate victory.

Christ led His Disciples out to Bethany, teaching them on the way. As He blessed them, lifting up His Hands, He was lifted up into Heaven, until a cloud received Him out of their sight. This is the same Cloud that covered the Tabernacle in the Wilderness when Moses spoke with God. It is the same Cloud that Ezekiel saw from the inside out, full of innumerable saints of God.

Christ entered into this Cloud and into Glory, but not just as the great Teacher, not just the great Miracle worker, nor even as the Great Martyr for Righteousness’ sake. He entered as the Son of God returning to His Father. Imagine the scene in Heaven as Christ returned to take his rightful place at the Father’s right hand. What a celebration, what a mighty shout of triumph there must have been from an innumerable

number of angels! Yet, even at this mighty moment of victory and joy, Christ does not forget His Disciples. He dispatches two angels, who say to them, “Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven." Even in His hour of triumph, Jesus thought of us.

Thus, Jesus takes his rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. Having done all that He was to do, having served as the Lamb “slain from the foundation of the World”. He is enthroned on high to receive everlasting glory and honor and dominion.

He thus completes the great Cycle of Salvation, beginning with his Incarnation, His Nativity, His Atonement, His Resurrection, and finally, His Ascension.

Ascension also defines our salvation. When Christ ascended into Heaven, He wasn’t just an ethereal spirit, or an apparition. No, Christ took a real flesh and blood body with Him to Heaven. This is important. We know that just as Christ rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven, so shall we. He took our human nature with Him to be glorified and exalted forever. What Christ did not assume, he could not justify. What he did not take to Heaven, He could not glorify. Yet, He did. In his Incarnation, He took our human nature upon Him and atoned for it on the Cross. In His Resurrection, He arose in his Human Body, thus giving it (and us) victory over the grave. Finally, in His Ascension, He arose to Heaven, glorifying our natures and sealing our Salvation.

On the Last Day, Christ shall call all from their graves and they shall appear for judgment in their flesh. Those who have trusted in Christ for their salvation will reign with Him in eternal glory. Those who rejected Christ in their lifetimes on earth will also be rejected. There will indeed be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” I weep for the unredeemed, for those who know not Christ, for they know not what they are going to lose forever. Pray God that we can minister to some of them, to give them the Good News of Salvation.

Thus, it is fitting and right that we give thanks and praise this night. For now is Christ our Lord glorified and magnified. Now has Christ our Lord taken His rightful place as Son and Heir to the Kingdom, to regain the glory he had from everlasting with the Father. He accomplished his mighty mission of salvation. His cry from the Cross, “It is finished!” attests to that. Pray God that those words ring in our innermost souls.

Without the Ascension, there would be no transcendent Holy Ghost to cheer, guide and strengthen us. Remember that Christ said in John 16:7: Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”

These are blessed words. Jesus is promising that He will send us a Helper if He returns to Heaven. This Helper, this Comforter is the Third Person of the Holy Trinity, God Himself, to be with us forever.

This is the promise that Christ sealed for us in His Ascension. This is how he defined our salvation, for, as He is, so shall we be.

Acts 1:11 "Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven."

1 Merill Unger Commentary