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Saturday, January 17, 2015

Behold, Emmanuel!



The Rev’d. Stephen E. Stults
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
January 18, 2015

Mark 1:1-3 “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, "Behold, I send My messenger before Your face, Who will prepare Your way;  3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight.” (taken from the New American Standard Edition.)

It is fitting that we should read this particular Gospel selection for this Second Sunday after Epiphany.  This is, after all, the first season in the Church year and the one that proclaims that the newly-born Messiah is here among us. Recall that we read in last week’s Gospel selection Jesus was actually manifested forth to mankind twice, once in Bethlehem as the Magi worshipped Him, and once again in Jerusalem, as he sat among the doctors and scribes, hearing them and asking them questions.

St. Mark, in his inimitable, brisk style, launches right into Jesus’ ministry.  He tells us briefly about John the Baptizer and how he baptized Jesus in the river Jordan.  Recall that wonderful scene where Christ comes up out of the water: Mark 1:10-11: “And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him;  11 and a voice came out of the heavens: "Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well-pleased."

For additional emphasis, recall the same passage from St. Matthew, which occurred when Christ came to John for baptism:” And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?"  15 But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him.” Matthew then relates the same appearance of the Holy Spirit in bodily form alighting on Jesus. This is, of course, the first evidence that Christ came not to destroy the Law, but rather to fulfill it.  It also highlights how utterly false the Jews’ accusations were against him, as they wanted, desperately, to see him as an enemy to Judaism.

What are we to make of this? Is it “just” another amazing theophany that we witness through the testimony of the Word Written?  It is “just” another affirmation of our faith, as we read about God the Father speaking audibly to us, as he affirms his love for the Son?  Is it a proclamation of the Holy Trinity, as we see, in one scene, all three Members of the Holy Trinity highlighted in stark relief? First, we have the Son, being baptized, the Holy Spirit alighting upon him in bodily form, while God the Father speaks about His Son. Perhaps a clearer example of, and witness to the Trinity would be difficult to find.

We should make note of all these things. This passage contains all of these important items, yet with one, all-important, encompassing theme: they all point to the Christ. First, Mark uses the prophecy of Isaiah to introduce John the Baptizer: As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee  The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”[i]   Then, with single-minded focus, Christ is the emphasis and center of this passage, just as He is the emphasis and focus of Epiphany. He is shown forth, He is manifested to us in this Epiphanytide. With that fact presented to us, we ask again, what are we to make of this? In short, how are we to regard Epiphany and, what difference can it make it our lives?

To answer that question, perhaps we should turn and consider the very nature of God Himself and our relationship to Him. Of course, we all are familiar with the attributes of God: Omniscience, Omnipotence, and Omnipresence. We know that He is all-knowing (Omniscient, all-powerful (Omnipotent) and always present (Omnipresent).
Perhaps we could add another great “O” to the list by saying that He is Overwhelming Love as well.  After all, St John tells us in 1 John 4:16: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”  While this is obvious to all of us, perhaps its ramifications are not as obvious in regards to Epiphany and our attitude towards it.

When we consider the love of God, my own mind always flies back to the concept of forgiveness and its attendant virtue, restoration.  True love always forgives a fault, when it is sought with sincerity and true repentance. It also provides for restoration, or the putting of one back in the place where one was before the fault. This is the most genuine and the most absolute love possible. We all know how difficult it is to have a normal relationship with someone who has wronged us in the past.  Yet, this is exactly what God the Holy Trinity does, every time we sin, repent, and seek amendment of life. In a blessed community of forgiveness, The Holy Spirit facilitates our prayers, the Blessed Son intercedes for us, and the Holy Father hears our pleas. Through the blessed mercy and overwhelming love of God, we are forgiven and we are restored.

Can we not see the Epiphany Season in the same light?  That is, what is the point of Epiphany if not to point to Jesus, which in turn points to our eternal blessedness in God? In this light, Epiphany becomes something not trivial, as a mere passage of time, but something more meaningful, even momentous for our lives.

We say this because Epiphany offers us something new and something fresh. That something is simply this: a new beginning in Christ. It is simply too easy, when we are burdened with the various troubles and vicissitudes of this life, as well as its very real trials and tribulations, to remember what we ultimately are: new creatures in Christ and the Children of God. 

Forgive me if this sounds too pat, too well-worn, and perhaps just said too many times. Yet, let me proclaim it again unto you. We Christians are blessed to be the Children of God in every sense of the word. We are not the slaves of God, nor are we merely the lowly and subservient subjects of a great King.  No, we are something different.  We are children, members of the royal household and thus, inheritors of our Father’s Kingdom.   You parents think of how much you love your own children and then multiply that by infinity, if you can.  That is how much Our Father loves those who love Him.  It is how much He loves us, his blessed children in Christ.

Putting this in context with Epiphany, it is God’s Love that we celebrate this Epiphany Season. It is God’s Love that sent us our Emmanuel, our Intercessor, and our eternal Friend.  It is God’s Love, through Christ, that makes possible our repeated forgiveness and restoration. It is God’s Love that makes possible our status as Children of God.

Finally, putting this in practical terms, what can we do to make a new start, to put a fresh face on our faith this year? 

We will submit that it comes down to renewing and refreshing our relationship to God.  We do this by seeking God’s Face in prayer and meditation, both communally and individually.  First, we do this by engaging in daily morning and evening prayer in our respective homes.  Let us bathe our homes in prayer and in reading of the Holy Scriptures day and night. Next, we come  together as a family and pray together, while being fed with the Blessed Sacrament of the altar. Finally, let us also ask for the recognition of God’s continual Presence in our lives, every moment of every day. Let us, as much as possible, pray without ceasing, in the words of St. Paul.  Better said, let our lives be a continual prayer unto God as we seek Him through all our activities, every day. In so doing, we will indeed be” a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”[ii]



[i] Mark1:1-3
[ii] Romans 12

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Grace and Peace from God


Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, 2014
 November 16, 2014

Philippians 1:2  2 ¶ Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Epistle selection for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, St. Paul bids peace and grace to the congregation at Philipi, both in his own name and that of his traveling companion and mentee, Timotheus.  This is, of course, the same Timothy to whom Paul would write two instructive epistles, called “the Pastorals.” Among orthodox Anglicans, these epistles are still used in diaconal exams to this day. As later history would unfold, this same Timothy would become the first bishop of Crete and would help spread the Gospel for years to come after Paul’s martyrdom in Rome 

Of interest here also is mention of two of the Church’s historic orders, as St. Paul mentions the bishops and deacons in the church at Philipi. This is interesting and instructive, for it shows us clearly that these orders existed in the earliest days of the Church. Sometimes other branches of Christ’s church yearn to return to what they term as the “primitive church”, while at the same time they reject the historic orders of the Church as “Popish” or “medieval”. The figure in the business suit is something they prefer, rather than the historic minister in his alb and chasuble.

Why, one might ask, is the not the office of the presbytery, or the priesthood, mentioned?  Simply, because that at this time it did not exist.  It did not come into being until a little later, when the Church had grown so much that bishops simply could not handle the ministry work- load.  At the same time, it was not thought prudent to consecrate many, many more bishops just to baptize, celebrate the Eucharist, and to perform other duties considered beyond the diaconate, but not necessarily rising to the level of bishop.  Thus, the office of priest was created.
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The reason we mention this is twofold. First, we want to emphasize the validity of clerical orders in the Church, and by so doing, show that we orthodox Christians are striving to preserve the Church according to its earliest model. Churches who have cast aside the historic offices of Bishop, Deacon, and Priest are actually weakening their claims to be “primitive” Christians. Suffice it to say that those bodies that have retained the historic clerical model are exactly in line with Scripture. Suffice it to say that those churches, such as the Anglican, Roman, and Orthodox Communions, who have kept the historic lines of bishop, priest, and deacon have a very desirable and valid form of church polity.

The second reason we mention this is to emphasize the orderly nature of our God.  As most of us have heard many times, is the simple truth that we worship a God of order.  He is not a God of disorder or confusion or chaos.  He is never hurried, hasty, or uncertain. He simply IS. Our God, in His complete serenity, sees eternity at a glance. Better said, He IS eternity.  Just as Moses heard from the burning bush in Exodus 3:14: "And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

With that thought in mind, let us briefly consider the prefect plan God prepared for the salvation of mankind.  Consider this prophecy from Jeremiah, taken from the lectionary for the upcoming Sunday Next Before Advent: ( Jeremiah 23:5-6): “ Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.  6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS”

In other words, God didn’t just “wake up” one morning and decide that Jesus Christ should leave His glory, take the form of a man, and come save mankind from his sins.  Rev. 13:8 speaks of the “…lamb slain from the foundation of the world.".  In other words, God had planned for the Advent of Christ from the beginning of the world.  Seeing eternity at one view, our God knows all things, sees all things, and in a strange and mysterious way, directs all things.  This happens all at once in the reality of God.

Thus, in our limited reality, we are experiencing and re-living the spectacle of salvation from its prophetic beginning in Advent upcoming in just two weeks, to its dramatic conclusion on Easter morning.  Consider these words from Jeremiah 23:7-8: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;  8 But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.”

At first glance, these words may seem to have little significance for us.  A closer examination shows that they have great, even monumental significance. The first part of the statement says that the people -both the Jews and the redeemed in Christ- will one day not just say that their God lives who brought them out of Egypt. In other words, God is not just the Lord of the Old Testament and of the deliverance from Egypt.  He is not just the God of the Law and the Prophets.  In the more perfect revelation of God, the people will now affirm that their God will restore His People to their own land, from which He had driven them because of their sin.  What this means for mankind is God is completely aware of our state of being and of our need for an eternal solution to our problem.  Thus, while the deliverance from our original state of bondage was wonderful, symbolized by the Jew’s deliverance from Egypt, their salvation was not yet complete.

 Later in the Bible we see the complete fall into sin by both Israel and Judah. The Law was not enough, nor was the witness of all the prophets, sent to warn them from their sin.  Something else was needed.  This complete and efficacious salvation is symbolized by the people’s worship of God as He restores them to their original land, their own land.  This “land” is, of course, our eternal home with God and in God.  It is the perfect country which we all seek and for which our souls ultimately long for.  For us Gentiles, it is brought about by the Gospel message of the New Testatment. 

Thus, while the first statement glorifies God in the Old Testament witness to him, the second statement glorifies Him in the New Testament witness of restoration and homecoming.

This begs the question, how will this restoration and homecoming be accomplished?  In God’s perfect Mind, it had already been accomplished through the King about whom Jeremiah prophesied. Hear it again, please: “Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.  6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

This is clearly a prophecy of the Messiah, he whom will deliver Israel from her sins and lead her to righteousness.  We, who have been “graphed in” to the Tree of Life, to reference Paul’s statement in Romans 11, will be included in the family of God by virtue of our King and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are the children of promise and the lucky recipients of God’s Grace.

This is what we are preparing for in the upcoming Advent Season.  Not for the family gatherings, the presents, the decorations and all the hoopla of the Christmas Season.  All of these things occur because we are celebrating the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy.

It is a prophecy that came true in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is a prophecy that can come true in our hearts today as we prepare for the Advent season.

Thus, we challenge you to grasp this upcoming Advent Season with all of your spiritual strength and hold it close to you.  Take from it all of the meaningful inklings of the coming Christmas Season. Discard from it all distracting and ultimately meaningless celebrations that do not honor Christ.

If you do that, it will be more than just preparation for another Christmas.  It will be a preparation for an eternal Advent, shining forever in our hearts.


Amen.

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