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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

"Arise and Walk"

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
19th Sunday after Trinity 2014
October 19, 2014

Matthew 9:5   For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?
Have you ever witnessed a public scandal?  Have you ever heard someone say something so outrageous that it took your breath away? In short, have you ever heard something that literally shook you to the roots?

We have an example of that in today’s Gospel.  Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ says something that shakes the scribes to their very roots.  Recall that these men were the ones who had devoted their very lives to the preservation of the Law.  The scribes were in charge of copying the Talmud and the Torah, all without a single mistake.  In addition, they would make pronouncements based on the Jewish Scriptures, always with an eye on complete compliance with the Law.

Now, here comes into their midst a seemingly simple rabbi from Nazareth who says, Matthew 9:2: “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”The sheer audacity of the statement must have been most upsetting and unsettling to them.  How dare he say such a thing?  What a scandalous thing to say! Imagine how you would feel.  Let’s say a person walks into your office or place of business and presumes to know everything about what you are doing, and then makes a pronouncement that strikes at the very root of our profession.  In other words, the very boldness and audacity of the statement makes your jaw drop.

This is exactly what Christ did in this situation.  Note, Christ did not merely heal the man and send him on his way. That would have been too easy (for him) and would not have provided the witness that He wanted at that time.  After all, our Lord had been doing miracles for some time now and his fame would have spread far and wide, else why would the men come to Him?

For example, in the Book of Matthew up to this point, Christ has healed the leper, the centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and the demoniac.  In addition, he rebuked the storm on Lake Genessaret and astonished his own disciples.  These, of course, are only the documented miracles and healings.  There were no doubt hundreds of others in addition to these.  Thus, the healing of the man with the palsy was not the question.

Christ wanted to make a statement about himself, in such a way that told the scribes and Pharisees who He was without an overt claim made by himself.  After all, a self-proclaimed prophet or messiah is usually met with extreme cynicism, and even scorn.

Christ’s intent was not to talk about himself.  Instead, Jesus constantly provided signs which pointed to His Lordship.  For example, the entire Book of John is constructed around signs, all of which point to Christ.  With the idea of signs in mind, let us look at this particular one.

Once again, note that Christ did not merely say to the man, “Arise, take up thy bed and go unto thine house.”  Although this was the outcome of the event, it is presented almost as an afterthought.  Instead, he first looked at the man, and said, (Matthew 9:2) ”Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” This is the scandalous statement that shocked the scribes present.  These holy men thought to themselves, “This man is a blasphemer.  Who can forgive sins except God?”

Then, Christ draws the sign to a close by asking a simple question, (Matthew 9:5-7) “For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?”  While they were pondering this, Our Lord continued: “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house.  7 And he arose, and departed to his house.”The sign is complete.  Christ clearly drew the comparison that the One who could forgive sins was also the One who could heal a sick man with a word.  He left it up to the scribes to make the obvious connection.

No doubt they did make the connection, but not being mixed with faith, it was impossible for them to realize what was really happening. Again, although they saw the sign, they did not have the gift of faith to see that God Himself was among them. Emmanuel had indeed come, according to prophecy, but their minds were closed. 

God uses signs everyday to point us to Himself. For traditional, historic Christians such as ourselves, we have the most powerful and readily accessible signs available to us.  These are the Word of God and the Holy Sacraments, both of which are meant to point us constantly to Jesus and his saving grace.  When we think of our advantages as modern Christians, it seems it would be so much easier to believe, doesn’t it?  After all, we the Word of God readily available in every bookstore, even every supermarket, all over the Internet, and broadcast on the airwaves.  We have churches on virtually every corner all over this country, and we have the Holy Sacrament available on a wide-scale basis.  In short, we have signs literally shouting the name of Christ virtually everywhere.

Why then, are not all churches full?  Why, with all the abundance of signs, is not this country, even all the world, literally bursting with vibrant enthusiasm for God?

The fact is that signs alone are not enough.  Note that Christ saw the men bringing the sufferer into His midst, and “seeing their faith”, proceeded to heal him.  Signs merely point out the way to us.  It is up to us to follow their direction. 

Whatever they may be, and however they may show up in your life, watch for your personal signs that point you to Christ.  Look for signs in your own spirit that lead you to a greater awareness of His power in your life. Above all, use the signs available to us to take the right road to Christ.

Then, when God calls us to heed a certain sign, let us all hope and pray that we have faith sufficient to take the road He has pointed out to us.  It is that road that leads to our ultimate fulfillment.

Matthew 9:2 : “And, behold, they brought to him a man sick of the palsy, lying on a bed: and Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.”


AMEN






Constancy, Glory, and Redemption: The Feast of All Saints 2014


Rev. Stephen E.  Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Feast of All Saints, 2014

Please consider these two selections of Holy Scripture for our consideration today of the Feast of All Saints:

First, from our Epistle for the day, Revelation 7:9-10:  9 “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;  10 And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.”

And, from the book of Hebrews:
Hebrews 12:1 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,”

Both of these passages of Holy Writ have bearing on what we observe today.

Today we celebrate a great day in the life of the Church, the Feast of All Saints.  Today is a special day, for today we commemorate all of the Saints of God:  those for whom God has opened the gates of larger life in the Church Expectant; those who are present now in the Church Militant on earth, and for all of those Christians, we included, looking for the complete and eternal glorification in the Church Triumphant.  Let us briefly consider each group and what they have to teach us about being saints.

Sometimes it seems as if we only focus on a certain group of Saints, whether it be those great Prophets of the Old Testament, or those Apostles of the New.  Perhaps, you may, as I do from time to time, muse upon the various great figures of the Bible with considerable envy.  “Oh” say I, “if only I had the wisdom of a Solomon, or the patience of a Job, or the leadership qualities of a Moses, or even the tenacious persistence of a Paul!  How blessed I would be!”

These are valid thoughts, I believe.  It is true that we who are in the historic Church and who believe in the primacy of Holy Scripture have a unique and wonderful perspective when we look back on the history of the Church. Quoting Sir Isaac Newton in a letter to his rival Robert Hooke, in 1676: “If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."[1]  We in the historic Church have indeed stood upon the shoulders of Giants.  The great men and women of the Church have and do serve as examples to us. We are indeed blessed to have their godly examples before us as we seek to emulate them.  These are people that God blessed with a great portion of His spirit and thus shine with  light perpetual throughout the ages.  Again, Thank God for them. 
Yet, when we do look back with wondering hearts and eyes, we may have a certain temptation to say or think:  “That was then…this is now. Surely saints like that don’t exist anymore.  After all, these are figures in the Bible.  Things like that don’t happen now.”  There actually is some truth to that statement.  In our modern faithless society, God may not pour out His Spirit in exactly the same way that He did in the Book of Acts, where St. Peter’s shadow could heal the sick, or when St. Paul could rebuke a spirit with a word, or even raise the dead with a prayer. 
Maybe those were signs for the Church that don’t necessarily apply to the Church today.  Perhaps.  Perhaps those were signs meant for the building up of the 1st century Church.  That could be. 
Yet, that does not excuse you or me from being what God in Christ has called us to be.  Just because we don’t or can’t work great miracles doesn’t mean that we can’t be great saints.  Just because we don’t speak in tongues doesn’t mean that we are not “saved”, as some ultra-fundamentalist groups believe.  In short, just because we don’t exhibit the externalia of the Spirit doesn’t give any indication of our spiritual condition, or more importantly, our standing with God.
Usually, the work of the Spirit is usually a quiet thing, growing inside us, sanctifying us, making us holier than we were this time last year.  Along this line, recall the classic Anglican belief about salvation:  “I am saved; I am being saved; I hope to be saved.”  That is, my salvation is an accomplished fact through Jesus Christ; my continued sanctification is an on-going work of the Holy Spirit; and my eventual glorification in Heaven is my hope, the thing to which I look forward.  Not “hope” in the sense that I might not get it, but “hope” in the sense of something eagerly awaited. In the words of St. Paul from Philippians 3:14 “I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. “  This “pressing forward” is our calling as the saints of God and should be our foremost spiritual activity.
This realization is critical to us here in the Church Militant on earth:  we are called to be saints. We, here and now, are called to be saints to all those around us. Our speech, our actions, and our demeanor should bespeak our condition as the elect of God.  Not in some dour, “holier-than-thou” attitude of “spiritual one-upmanship”, but in a genuine, overwhelming sharing of our joy and love based on the reality of our salvation.
 Our foremost calling is to love God with all of our hearts, with all of our minds, and with all our strength; then to love our neighbor as ourselves.  When we approach our ideal, we will be saints indeed.
It is my firm conviction that those who have left a church building or a church structure, or something warm and familiar for the sake of truth, are saints.  Those who have preferred the sharp, clear, sometimes uncomfortable brilliance of truth over the fuzzy opaque-ness of heterodoxy, not matter how comfortable, are saints.  Finally, those who have loved their Lord Jesus Christ to the exclusion of being with the “right” crowd are saints. It may be uncomfortable, it may be inconvenient.  It is certainly not easy.
We come here each Sunday to celebrate something.  On the surface, it seems as if we are just preserving some 17th century ritual or liturgy.  It seems like we are just preserving the old and accustomed, as opposed to the new and adventurous, the progressive, the modern.  “How could you do that, the world exclaims?  The language is so funny!” 
Well, to the uninitiated, the language is funny, the actions quaint and un-modern.  But, beloved in the Lord, this is not why we do this.  True, we all think that the liturgy is the time-honored way to worship, dating from the primitive church.  True, we think that reading the Scriptures each Sunday is the best way to ground our worship in the Word of God. It is true, also, that we think that liturgical prayer is the most powerful way to pray, focusing all of our prayer efforts in a single, condensed direction.
Yet, for all of these advantages, this is not the reason we gather here each Sunday.  The reason that we gather here each Sunday is that we put forth and celebrate the Truth.  That truth is Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. That truth is so profound and so self-evident that it offends the world around us, which prefers to rest its hope in moral equivalency, or even moral ambivalence. 
That is, the world looks at us askance, even aghast and says, “How can you claim to have the truth?  How dare you to make such a claim!”
We make this claim for several reasons, first, because the Church throughout the ages has given us her testimony.  Simply, it is what the Church Militant does.  It is our job to bear witness to the truth.  In that vein, millions of saints have gone before us, worshipping and testifying to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.  Second, we have the Word of God to comfort us, strengthen us, and to guide us.  When we read the Holy Word of God with faith, His Spirit is always there to support and defend us with His almighty power.  Third, when we come together to celebrate the historic Eucharist, we invoke the power of God upon us.  Not bringing Christ down to us, as the medieval church believed, but rather the lifting up of our hearts and spirits to God. In faith, we have a tiny glimpse of the glories of heaven each Sunday in the Holy Eucharist as we celebrate the Holy Mysteries.  We say:” Therefore with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee and saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.”  Who can say those words with faith and not be moved?  This is what the Church Militant on earth does: it actively, vigorously celebrates the mystery of Christ in the Eucharist and in our lives.
Someday, beloved, all of us will move through the constriction of this limited life through the gates of larger life. There, with the redeemed in Christ, we will await our final glorification with the Church Expectant.  What the nature of this intermediate state is, we do not know.  True, all of us will stand before the judgment seat of Christ someday, but blessed be to God, our judgment will not be as those who have not trusted in Christ for their salvation. 
We who have been washed white in the Blood of the Lamb will not come under judgment, that is to say, condemnation, but rather will pass from death unto life. We who hold up Christ as our only justification for salvation will enter into life everlasting. We will join that great “cloud of witnesses”, beholding all events both in heaven and earth.
The last stage of our eternal journey is our final glorification as the Church Triumphant.  That will be that great day when all enemies of Christ, including Satan and all his evil angels, will be bound under the feet of Christ in abject submission.  In that great day, no evil will rear its ugly head, no rebellion will be uttered, but all things will be in order under the rule of Christ.  We who have trusted in Christ will have completed our journey from earthbound, fallen creatures to our eternal destiny as sons and daughters of the living God.  Washed in the waters of Holy Baptism, nurtured by God’s Holy Word , and fed by the Body and Blood of Christ, we will be carried by our ark of salvation, the Church, to our final and blessed home.
We celebrate that journey today.  With all Christians, past, present and future, we affirm the truth of our inheritance.  Above all, we give thanks to God, the author and finisher of our faith, confessing this: “Holy God, we praise thy Name; Lord Almighty, we confess thee; All the earth doth thee acclaim and in awe and wonder bless thee; Thou who wast before all time, Art eternal, high, sublime.”[2]
AMEN 

  




[1] The Phrase Finder, www.phrases.org
[2] “Te Deum” Hymn 273, The Hymnal of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Church Pension Fund, New York, 1940

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Blessing and Multiplication


Seventh Sunday after Trinity, 2014
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

Aug. 3rd , 2014

Today’s Gospel relates one of the archetypal stories in Christendom: the feeding of the four thousand.  It is the second time that Christ fed the people, the first being the mass of “about five thousand men, as well as women and children.” It is the lesser known of the feeding miracles, being related only in Matthew and Mark, whereas the feeding of the five thousand is related in all four gospel accounts.

The real significance of this events is manifold, even if one doesn’t “merely” dwell on the miraculous nature of the feedings themselves. Of course, not to marvel at the wonderful physical multiplication of the loaves and fishes is to do God a grave disservice. The very fact that Our Lord took the bread and the fish, blessed it, broke it and distributed it to his disciples is wonderful beyond words. The word “miracle” doesn’t even do it justice. It had not been done before, and we doubt if it will ever be done again. It was truly a marvelous happening.

Yet, we actually must go beyond the physical marvel into the “how” and “why” beyond the act to begin to truly appreciate the significance of it.  Without sounding too pompous, we must enter into the metaphysical realm to see why it is significant to us today.

We believe that the true significance of this act goes beyond Christ’s compassion shown on the multitude. Of course, on the first level of meaning, this is truly marvelous and blessed to behold.  Christ had “compassion” on the crowd, because they had been with him three days with nothing to eat.  This shows what great power Christ’s words had, as well as the power of his preaching. The crowd was so spiritually hungry that they neglected their bodily needs in order to hear His words of truth.  Can you imagine? Christ had such wisdom and eloquence that He
held their attention for three days. Yet, even so, Christ cared about their physical welfare, as well as their spiritual welfare.   Thus, Christ “begged the question” as his disciples made the doubtful query, “Where can one find bread in the wilderness, and especially enough to feed so many?”

No doubt Our Lord wanted them to ask the question, so that they could be still and behold the works of God. They needed to see Christ at work, because at this point, there were some among them that still doubted whether or not He was the Christ.

Now, we come to the metaphysical part.  This is the area which transcends the mere  physical and takes us up in to the mind of God, as much as we are able.  Note first that Christ asked how many loaves the disciples had on hand...  Whether this came from the crowd, or from the disciples themselves, we not know, because Scripture is silent.
The disciples answer, “Seven.” We also learn that there were a few small fish available as well. 

Thus, let us pursue the truth at hand. Our Lord then set the pattern for the four-fold action of the Holy Eucharist, when he took, blessed, broke, and gave to His disciples. 

Now, to the crux of the matter….. Please note that Christ did not, shaman-like, create an illusion of abundance. That is, it didn’t just look as if the bread and fishes were multiplied.  They actually were increased beyond belief.  Also, and just as important, is the fact that Christ didn’t do magic.  He did not wave his hand and the fish and bread appeared. Recall that magic is a manipulation of nature, making it do something that is against its own essence.  For example, things do not just appear out of nowhere.  Something from nothing is not natural.  The only time something was created ex nihilo, out of nothing, was the Creation itself.  It is this priest’s opinion that God created the atoms, the chemical compounds, and the other building blocks of matter, which he in turn, fashioned into our Earth.  In this respect, Science and Religion do not have to be at odds. After all, we know that God is the ultimate Scientist, just as He is the ultimate expression of all that is good.

Instead of something out of nothing, our Lord did something else:  He multiplied.  He magnified, He amplified.  Taking the things already at hand, Jesus multiplied them. Thus, seven loaves became enough to feed thousands. 

What lesson can we take from this, both individually and corporately?
Simply this: God takes what we have and grows it.  He multiplies anything that is truly given to Him. One simple example is our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving”, which we each individually offer every Sabbath day during our worship.  This priest knows that he always gains something from each experience of holy worship.  After all, how can we not, as we seek to draw near to the Holy One, when we approach His Altar with “boldness”, to cite Heb. 10:19. Thus, when we approach God with our gifts, even though they may appear to be meager , God takes and multiplies them.  He takes us and sometimes He must first break us, before He can bless and magnify us.

We are the loaves and the fishes.  We are that worthy material God uses to spread His Glory to the community.  As we continue to give ourselves to Almighty God in faith, in hope, and in love, God will multiply us.

Therefore, let us not be as the incredulous and unbelieving disciples, who asked, “From whence can a man satisfy these men with bread here in the wilderness?”[1]  Rather, let us be like the waiting multitude, which was fasting, yet expectant; hungry, yet hopeful.

Beloved, we are the loaves and fishes. We are the faithful remnant. As we remain faithful, we will be magnified.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, AMEN



[1] Mark :4

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