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Friday, July 4, 2014

Evil: Myth or Truth?

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
3rd Sunday after Trinity 2014
July 6, 2014

 I Peter 5:8-9: “Be sober, be watchful: your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour, whom withstand stedfast in your faith, knowing that the same sufferings are accomplished in your brethren who are in the world.”


Our Epistle selection for the day brings forth an interesting question… Is the idea of objective evil a myth, or is it truth? The answers will vary. Among those who deem themselves as secular intellectuals, yet whom are devoid of a lively faith, the answer one might receive is one of mild incredulity or even derision.  “What,” your associates might exclaim, “You believe in evil as an objective reality? You actually buy the idea that there’s some sort of sinister supernatural being as your spiritual enemy?  My, my, how quaint, how beautifully primitive and simplistic!”  On the other hand, among those of faith, the answer may be as St. Peter, that “your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.”

So, brethren, which is it? Do we, as 21st century Anglicans believe that the Devil really exists, that there really is a supernatural enemy named Satan? Or, is he just a myth, cooked up by monastic Medieval minds? 

That answer may hinge on your view of the validity and veracity of the Holy Bible.  If, for example, you believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, you probably have no problem accepting the concept that Satan exists.  If, on the other hand, you take a more relativistic view of the Bible, or you hold it to be mainly myth, especially that part about the resurrection, you will certainly scoff at the outlandish idea that there is a supernatural adversary in pursuit of your soul.

So, there we have it.  Again, perhaps our more “enlightened” friends will chuckle at the simplicity of our view, the life of faith. So be it. To my mind, faith makes life easier, cleaner, and certainly more comprehensible.  It does explain why things are as they are to a great degree, and it helps one to make better sense of nonsensical situations

Simply, our worldview is this: we have a loving God and Creator, who made all things and loves all things to an infinite degree.  This being has expressed himself to us as a tripartite Person consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. His Creation is good.  Yet, for some hidden and mysterious reason, evil entered into our world through the machinations of a fallen angel, Lucifer.  Again, for some divine and mysterious reason, this same angel led a revolt in Heaven, as detailed in the book of Daniel. Here’s an important point: God Himself did not fight against this fallen angel, but delegated that task to the Archangel Michael, who then led an army of faithful angels to defeat, evict, and humiliate Lucifer.  His fate: to be sentenced to the nether regions of the Earth, and to remain in this temporal realm until God the Father sees fit to change his situation.

This story from God’s Holy Word underscores a mightily important point.  That point is that no matter how grievous evil is, and despite the titanic amount of suffering it causes, evil is in no way, shape, or form nearly as powerful as good. The Universe in general and the Earth in particular, are both inherently good, because they were made by God.
                       
Here’s the catch, however.  The Earth still labors under her ancient curse, applied when our First Parents fell from grace. That is why we have briars, and thistles, insect pests, and things that bite and scratch us.  It’s why Nature is so brutal, and why we too must kill in order to eat. It’s also why life is basically so tough, at its core.

How does this help us to understand the nature of evil in this world? How does it help to combat the chief objection to Christianity for many; namely, why does a loving God allow so much suffering in His world?  How and why does He allow it to a happen? In short, how could He?

This priest knows that all of us here have either thought this thought, or been asked this question by enemies of Christianity. We certainly don’t have the answer, except to say this: God is a god of order, and His processes are inherently logical and orderly.  If, in the first instance when sin and evil entered his Creation, he pronounced a curse on it, so it is. If, as part of that curse, Man could follow the darker, more sinister side of existence, exemplified by Lucifer’s rebellion, so be it. Finally, and lamentably, if chaos, suffering, death, and horrible human behavior springs from this, sadly, so be it. In short, God does not cause suffering, death, or even damnation. Our inherent fallen human nature takes care of that….

Yet, it gets worse…if our own fallen natures weren’t bad enough; they are actually aided and abetted by that spiritual criminal and rebel, Lucifer, known in this world as Satan. This, as simplistic, Medieval, superstitious, or just plain silly as it sounds to our worldly friends, is the real spiritual truth here.  If one ignores it, it accrues to one’s own spiritual peril.

So, what of it? Are we just flotsam and jetsam on the spiritual sea? Are we humans just  spiritual “cannon fodder” on the battleground between good and evil? 

Far from it. Rather than being just passive objects of temptation, we are major actors in this drama.  We actually have the ability to affect our outcome, and even the nature of the world around us. We take up the shield of faith, we put on the breastplate of righteousness, and we don the helmet of salvation.  Most importantly, we seize the Sword of the Spirit.  Then, as St. Peter tells us, we are to resist Satan, steadfast in the faith.

How?  What power do we little Christians actually have at our fingertips?
We have the greatest power imaginable, the Name of Jesus.  When a Christian prayerfully invokes the name of Jesus with unshakeable faith, miraculous things happen. The sick are cured, the lame walk, the blind see, and the satanic forces are dispelled.  At the name of Jesus, they recoil in horror, fear, and loathing. They quit the battlefield, dispirited and weakened.  You see, the satanic forces know they are defeated.  They know, deep in their devilish beings, that they must lose, eventually. As Martin Luther once wrote about Satan, “for lo! His doom is sure. One little word shall fell him…”

That word, Jesus, is the one to whom we Christians owe eternal thanks and praise, not only for our salvation, but for the help we receive here and now. Thanks be to Christ, we can resist the spiritual foes that afflict us...  Then, when the spiritual heaviness is over and we once again begin to feel light in the Lord, we should look up and say, “Thanks are to God!”

AMEN

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Holy! Holy! Holy!

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday 2014

Let us all praise and bless God today….Why is today, Trinity Sunday, a special and wonderful day? To this query, the average person, and even the average Christian, will scratch his head and mutter, “I dunno…”

When one truly considers this Sunday, it should be special for all Christians, big and small, old and young, and all those who love the Lord.

Once again, why? Let us answer that question by saying that today we are celebrating the central mystery of the Christian faith, out of which all other mysteries flow.  Today, we affirm the wonderful mystery of the Holy Trinity. We ponder anew the mind-boggling nature of God, as we recognize the makeup of the Divine Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Today, we are reminded of the completely peculiar and distinctive nature of Christianity at its very core.

Recall that God is one Being, in which there are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, there are not three Gods.  There are not three Fathers.  There are not three Sons. There are not three Holy Spirits.  There is one Father, one Son, and one Holy Ghost, all who are God, and all who are co-eternal, co-existent, and co-eternal.  All three Persons of the Holy Trinity are God, yet the Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit.  The Son is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not the Father, nor the Son.  Yet, all are God, without co-mixture, or confusion. 

Confused yet?  Does your brain hurt yet?  It gets better.... Even though the members of the Holy Trinity are co-equal, why does Jesus say in John 14:28, “…for my father is greater than I.” Isn’t this an apparent contradiction to historic theology?   No.  Jesus is inferior to His Father in respect to His manhood, yet He is equal to his Father in respect to his Godhood. As far as the Divine Community is concerned, Jesus is equal to his Father, for, as He said in John 10;30, “I and my Father are one.”  This statement so infuriated the Jews, that they picked up stones to stone Him.

So it has always been with the Holy Trinity.  For those not of the community of faith, it is a source of infuriation, or of disbelief, or of scorn. St Paul once remarked in 1 Corinthians 1:23: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. “  The same can be said about the Holy Trinity.  This central mystery is also the chief stumbling-block for many Christians.  It is also foolishness for many. But, here it is: it is the chief truth of orthodox Christianity, one that must be affirmed to be saved, in the words of the Athanasian Creed.

Let’s explore this a little more….unless one has the gift of faith, one cannot affirm the Trinity.  Recall that every single cult, Christian or not, does not affirm it.  They do not, because they cannot.  This is a mystery that can only be affirmed with the help of the Holy Ghost, in much the same way that one can say, “Jesus is Lord” with the Holy Ghost.

Here’s the big point, beloved. One must believe in the Trinity to be saved. Why? Simply because one must believe in the right nature of God to be saved.  What is that nature?  It is the nature of God as revealed in Scripture: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

We as Christians must never get caught up in the erroneous concept that everyone can believe what he or she wants, and yet be saved.  Remember, just because we believe something does not bind God to it, nor change His Holy Will.  Yet, there are an alarmingly growing number of people who adopt this semi-Universalist view.  They believe that since they are basically “good” people, God wouldn’t dare send them to Hades, or eternal death, or whatever. 
We can embrace this error, or we can seek some other way, but it does not change who or what God is.  It does not change the fact that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It does not change the fact that no one comes to the Father except by Him.

Sounds terribly absolutist, doesn’t it? Surely there must be a softer, more individualistic, more humanistic way to salvation.  Surely there must be a way where this Trinity business is nice, but not absolutely necessary to salvation. Surely there must be a way whereby all men can be saved, without all this theology.

Well, no…. consider John 14:6:  “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” This doesn’t leave much “wiggle room.”  One must either accept Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, thereby accepting His gracious gift of salvation and eternal life, or not.  If one chooses not, then that choice has consequences.  At the Last Day, when we all stand before the Throne of Judgment, our choice will be known.  Then, we will truly understand the words of Christ from Matthew 22:14:”For many are called, but few are chosen.”  All mankind is called by Jesus’ universal call of grace from the Cross, but not all are blessed with the gift of faith, for some mysterious reason. On that fateful day, those making other professions will be judged accordingly.  Then, the separation will occur.

Thus, let us all praise and bless God for all of His benefits to us, not the least of which is this precious gift of faith. We in this room can affirm the reality of the Trinity, even though we don’t understand it.... We can affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ, although we certainly can’t understand His makeup as perfect God and perfect Man.  Nor do we understand the enormity of His sacrifice for us.  Yet, we believe and bow our heads in love, reverence, and worship.  This gift doesn’t come of us, but from the Holy Ghost.  Only he can visit us and grant us the ability to believe that Jesus Chris is the only-begotten Son of the Father.  Only the Holy Ghost can grant us the ability to believe that God the Father loves us so much that He gave His only Son for our redemption. Only the Holy Ghost is our constant companion to lead, instruct, comfort, and strengthen us. When we believe these things, we affirm the Trinity, and when we affirm the Trinity, we affirm our salvation.

Thus, do we have cause for celebration today?  Do we have a reason to give thanks to God with buoyant spirits and enkindled hearts?  Do we say to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, “we thank thee, we praise thee, and we glorify thee?” Yes, yes and yes….


Amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

First Fruits

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
The Fourth Sunday after Easter
 May 18, 2014

James 1:18 ” … so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures. “

Allow me to have you consider one thought for today: first fruits.
This is the major insight available to us today from the Word of God, taken from the Epistle of James.  In this important passage, something meaningful is bestowed on the people of God as we see the major theme of first fruits shining clearly through.

Let us briefly consider one of most instructive, yet terse, books in the New Testament, the Book of James.  It was a book that was not admitted into the canon of the New Testament without some controversy, according to John Calvin.  He mentions that he accepts it as having apostolic authority, but not without noting that he believes it was written, not by James the son of Zebedee, but rather James the son of Alphaeus. This is the same James whom Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Galatians as one of the ‘pillars” of the Church. Calvin’s reason for thinking this is the fact that Herod martyred James the son of Zebedee soon after Our Lord’s resurrection.[1]

At any rate, as interesting as this may be to Biblical scholars and to those of us interested in Biblical orthodoxy, the real message comes from James’ instruction in righteousness. James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God, with whom is no “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”  In other words, all good comes from God. In fact, every “perfect” gift comes from God as well.

While we would not doubt that, being fully persuaded of God’s absolute goodness, James wrote this in answer to those who felt that God brought forth evil as well as good.[2]  We Christians believe that God does not bring forth evil, for this is against His nature.  Notwithstanding this, it is likely that God allows men to exercise their natural sinful impulses in order to accomplish some divine purpose.  For example, in the Old Testament, the impulses and desires of a suzerain like Nebuchadnezzar served God’s purposes, as he allowed him to conquer many peoples, including Israel and Judah.  Later, God would allow the apostasy of Judah to follow her natural consequences as she rebelled against God, her heavenly ruler, and also against Nebuchadnezzar, her earthly ruler.  This rebellion, both on a theological and temporal level, led to the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem, including its wall.  This was the beginning of sorrows for the Jews of the Southern Kingdom, as their personal heterodoxy led to national rebellion and to its natural consequences.

Yet, as important as this information is, it is not the real message in this passage, which James reveals next.  He tells us that God brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits among his creatures. We are called to be something fresh, something new to mankind and to the world. We are to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath. We are to put away “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” in order that we may receive the word of salvation engrafted in our souls.  To accomplish this, we are to be doers, not just hearers of the word. By remembering this call to action, we will remember who we are and our calling.  In short, we are to be the “first fruits” of righteousness.  We are to show forth new life.

Thus, in James’ mind, receiving the word means acting on it as well.  We are not simply to hear, nod our head, and walk away.  Doing this, we may very well forget what we have heard, just as a man may forget his own looks after viewing them in a mirror. No, we are to act upon the Word as it impacts our soul.  We are to “look into the perfect law of liberty” and abide in it, becoming habitual in doing as well as hearing. As we do this, we will truly become the first fruits of God and do what pleases Hm.

Yet, having patience with ourselves, as God certainly does, we must realize that we will not become holy at all once.  Returning once again to John Calvin, we hear:”And this doctrine is very useful, for spiritual generation is not a work of one moment. Since some remnants of the old man ever abide in us, we must necessarily be through life renewed, until the flesh be abolished; for either our perverseness, or arrogance, or sloth, is a great impediment to God in perfecting in us his work.”

Just as Calvin recognized, as did Martin Luther, that the “old man” is persistent in his ways, we who wish to be holy someday must be patient today. Our growth in holiness may be more immediate, or it may be the work of a lifetime.  Yet, let us all begin this important work.  Let us beseech God that He sees fit to call us to repentance and new life in Him. Let us ask Him to renew us, build us, restore us and empower us.

If we hear the Word of God and act upon it, we will find new life. As we begin to be both hearers and doers of the Word, we will note the spiritual health of our being, full of the grace and strength of God.  We will know that God has accomplished this and we will act accordingly, “not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer.” [3] In so doing, we shall be blessed in all that we do.

James 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.

 

AMEN




[1] http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol45/htm/vi.htm
[2] Calvin, op.cit.
[3] James 1:25

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

LUX

                 LUX
                                                       
                                                                                  Fears  abound,
                                                                                  Varied shapes.
                                                                                  Problems real,
                                                                                  Or  just imagined?

                                                                                  Chaos reigns
                                                                                  In hearts of men,
                                                                                  No moral compass,
                                                                                  No evening star

                                                                                  Would that Dawn
                                                                                  Will come again,
                                                                                  Light so pure,                                                                                                                        And Heat so real.

                                                                                   Light that sheds
                                                                                   Its healing rays,
                                                                                   None is safe
                                                                                   From darkling stealth

                                                                                   Then, new Day
                                                                                   Will appear,
                                                                                   Certain, clean,
                                                                                   And unafraid.
                       
                                                                                        -S.E.S. 
Epiphany 2014
                                                                                       

                                                                                                                        

Voca Me Domine

 Voca Me, Domine

Heaven’s call, heard not by all,
Yet universal, shines within my soul,
A globe of light making whole
Flawed vessels’ dark total

The hounds of Heaven bay apace
Insistent, soft, not fierce,
Rein’d by that Hand once-pierced
By Hatred’s florid face

O gracious call!  Who can resist?
Such loving Will that draws
My once-confused, tangled maws
Deeply to Thy Christ

Once answered, peace ensues,
Yet, “strife within the sod”,
Perfection opts not within this mod,
High treasure, always woo’d 

The Feast, the Lamb hath beckon’d
To nuptials now directed,
Upon that Perfect Day elected,
By Him, through Him, long reckon’d

-S.E.S.
Trinitytide, 2006


Easter Paen

Easter Paean

O King of Life Eternal!
O Victim Royal, Sublime
Who gives Thyself for Offering
And makes me wholly Thine
Accept even now our praises
Given to Thy holy Name
O Priest, O King Eternal
Oblation without blame

Who shone before all worlds
Took form or had their shape
The Light that lightest all men
Came down, didst manhood take
O Logos, Word Incarnate
Men’s hate could not Thee bind
(but) Cast off Death’s cold shackles
And mortality confined

Now reign, O Lord almighty
O Blessed One in Three
To the Trinity be Glory
As is forever meet
O Dayspring from on high
Shine on our soiled face
And now, from Thy Great Kindness
Bestow us with Thy Grace


Rev. Stephen E. Stults
Eastertide, 2009
                       
(May be set to the tune of “O Sacred Head, Sore Wounded”)




Proof

 Proof

Proof the World demands, as tokens
Of Thy Love and Presence,
Show us Thy Face!
Give us a sign!
We would see Christ

Not made by Thee, (man says) but hatch’d
From natural stuff and such,
Primate folk are we;
The Missing Link laughs
And beats his stump

O Man, so glorious, so arrogant,
“Fools and slow of heart!”
Ought not Man believe
That Christ suffered once,
Now wrapped in Glory?

Yea, and more than a man
This Jesus, dual-natured One;
God, bound for Heaven
Leads our captivity captive,
Man, no longer moribund

-S.E.S.
Trinitytide, 2006