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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

In the Beginning....

“In The Beginning…”
Christmas 2010
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabus Anglican Church

Joh 1:1-3
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

In these short verses, St. John sums up that on which theologians have written literally thousands of pages. In the next three verses, John will give us the Gospel compressed, in terms that are at once simple, irrefutable and theologically correct. What an appropriate Christmas reading!

John tells us that God and Christ have always been, i.e. “in the beginning.” He emphasizes this by saying that “In the beginning was the Word.” Now, we Christians know that the Word, when capitalized in the New Testament, always refers to Jesus. St. John thus emphatically tells us that Christ has always been, with, and is God. This is doubly emphasized when the Gospel says, ”The same was in the beginning with God.” John does not want us to miss the point that Christ is God, co-equal and co-eternal with God the Father and God the Spirit, here unsaid but definitely implied.

In vs. 4-11, John unfolds his Gospel message like a flower, each line opening another petal until he reveals the underlying beauty. In vs. 4-5, John tells us that Jesus Christ is life, and that life is the light that illuminates our sad, dark world, bringing life into every heart that is called to receive Him.
Note, however, not all men are called to salvation. John says that “he came unto his own, and his own received him not” and “the light shineth in darkness and the darkness comprendeth it not.” We have to realize that rejection came first before the Gospel took root in those called to receive it.

Notice too, how the Gospel came to us before the 1st Advent of Christ. The Apostle John tells us about the last and greatest of the prophets, John the Baptizer. He was to bear witness to the True Light that “lights every man who comes into the world.”

As we have discussed in our treatment of the Gospel proper for the 4th Sunday in Advent, John did not claim to be the Christ, or “that prophet” or Elijah come back to life. He simply said, ”I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias.” John the Baptizer was a man filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.
we spoke about the reaction when Mary was visiting her cousin Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer. Recall that when Mary entered the house and said hello to Elizabeth, the babe in Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy at the salutation. When Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost, Mary responded with that wonderful canticle that we sing or say at Evening Prayer, the Magnificat. This great paen of prase begins: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Savior.”

This is the reaction Jesus provokes in those that love Him. This is what we should say in our hearts and souls when we fall down and worship Him: “My soul doth magnify the Lord and my spirit doth rejoice in God my Saviour.” As the result of receiving Jesus into our hearts, He gives us “power to become the sons (and daughters) of God.
” To those who believe on His Name this power comes “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” God calls us and chooses those whom He will to be saved. Glory be to God!

This brings us to the crux of this wonderful Christmas Gospel selection. John tells us that the Word “was made flesh and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”) In John’s beautiful style, he tells us the most momentous event in history in just six little words: “And the Word was made flesh…” This is the Incarnation, where God became man, where the Second Person of the Trinity became human and “dwelt among us.” Now, we Anglicans have always held this event in very high regard. In fact, one party of the Anglican Communion, those called Anglo-Catholics, hold the Incarnation to be the special moment of all time. They believe the Incarnation to be the moment in history, when God took on manhood, where Divinity put on Humanity, in order that humanity might be saved through Divinity.

How can we disagree with that? We must agree that the Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the central moment of history, which is why history is (or was) divided into B.C. (before Christ) and A.D. (Anno Domini, the year of the Lord). Despite liberal scholastic attempts to change this into B.C.E. (before Christian era), the fact is plain: Christ’s coming to us in human flesh changes the creation dynamic completely. The Incarnation changes everything because it ushers us into the New Covenant era through the ministry of Jesus Christ. Thus, it really is the central moment of all time. Without the Incarnation, it is impossible to have the miracles, the teachings, the healings, the Transfiguration, the Passion, the Resurrection and the Ascension of Christ. Without Christ, it is impossible to be saved.

Yet, one must focus on the entire life of Christ to really appreciate the Incarnation. Those who focus only on the Incarnation are doing Christ honor, but perhaps are “missing the forest for the trees.”

The Incarnation is where it all begins. This is where the “rubber meets the road”, to quote an old Uniroyal tire ad. The topic of Jesus Christ, man and God, is the center of most of the heresies in the Christian Church. It is the stumbling block for those who do not have the gift of faith. Looking at it outside a Christian viewpoint, it is truly mind-numbing to consider how God, infinite and all-powerful, could take on Man’s nature without diminishing His own Divine nature. Or, that Man could assume Godhood without changing his nature in some respect. Yet, that is exactly what happened in Bethlehem. God took Man’s nature upon Him and in Jesus Christ a new creature was born, one person with two natures, perfect God and perfect Man.

This is exactly where the various heretical sects had their problems. For example, the Arians tried to promulgate a view that there “was a time when Christ was not.” The Council of Nicea quashed this view, and produced the Nicene Creed. Thus, the language, “one Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God” came forth to clearly delineate the uniqueness of Christ. Other groups, like the Montanists and the Marcionites, had problems with either the divinity of Christ or the humanity of Christ, or both.

The worst and most pervasive group was the Gnostics, who erred on both sides of the God-Man equation. They either denied the divinity of Jesus or impugned His humanity. Thus, it was impossible for some to accept the gospel of John at face value. Instead, man had to try to figure out everything about God.

For some people, mystery is unacceptable. Like the 17th and 18th century Rationalists, some people refuse to believe in the possibility of mystery. They do not believe that “there is a God and we’re not Him” to quote a favorite Sunday School teacher of mine.

The fact is, some parts of the Christian religion are mysterious. How is it possible for God to take on Man’s nature without diminishing His Own? How could Mary produce a child without a human father or human seed? How could Jesus Christ heal the sick, cure the blind and raise the dead? How could Jesus Christ, a man tortured to death on a cross, rise from a sealed tomb and be seen of hundreds of disciples at once? We don’t know. Shakespeare said, “herein lies the rub.” At some point, the intellectual arrogance of man meets the mysterious infinitude of God and stops cold. Then, the faithless and self-willed turn away and say “It can’t be done, it is impossible.” The faithful, on the other hand, behold the miracle of Christ and say, “All things are possible with God.” The faithful in Christ fall to their knees and say with St. Thomas: “My Lord and my God.”

So it is with us this Christmas, as we celebrate this central moment of all time. Despite the perennial attempt to commercialize and euphemize Christmas out of existence, this is the central moment of history. This is the most wondrous co-joining of Divinity with Humanity in a way that is recognizable but not comprehensible by us. The Council of Chalcedon explained it wonderfully in a doctrine called Intimacy, where the combination of the two natures of Christ occurred without “separation or division”. As well, Chalcedon put forth the doctrine of Integrity, where the two natures of Christ co-exist and co-inhere “without confusion or mixture.” As Anglicans have always believed, Jesus Christ was true God and true Man, at the same time.

Thus it is the most wonderful happening of all time. It is THE penultimate event that saves you and me from death and eternal damnation. Put in a positive sense, we are inheritors of eternal life through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

As our Epistle from Hebrews tells us (from the New King James version):

Hebrews 1:1-5 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. 5 For to which of the angels did He ever say: "You are My Son, Today I have begotten You"? And again: "I will be to Him a Father, And He shall be to Me a Son"? Who could say it better than that?

Amen, even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.

John 1:14
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Advent of the Christ

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Fourth Sunday in Advent
December 19, 2010

Advent of the Christ
John 1:19-20
“And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, Who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.”

Our Gospel for the 4th Sunday in Advent begins with the momentous line, “And this is the record of John….” from the Authorized Version. Some versions, notably the American Standard Version of 1901 and the Modern King James Version, say: “This is the witness of John”, others term it the “testimony” of John. Consider these words, record, witness, testimony. Webster tells us, regarding the word record: “an account of important events in the order in which they happened”; for testimony, “something presented in support of the truth or accuracy of a claim”; and finally, witness: “attestation of a fact or event “. Condensing these statements we get three important phrases: “important events, the truth, and attestation of a fact.” This is what John the Baptist brought to us.

Who was this John the Baptizer? From Luke we know that he was the relative of Christ, probably a cousin, because Luke tells us that Elizabeth, John’s mother, was a kinswoman of Mary the mother of Jesus. He was six months older than Christ, a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb. Recall the passage from Luke, when Elizabeth went to visit Mary. Both were pregnant. Recall the salutation of Elisabeth to Mary in Luk 1:41:
“And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit;”

Elizabeth then utters one of the great statements in the New Testament, in praise and adoration to God for his work through Mary in Luk 1:42-44
“and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.”

This is the same John the Baptist, a man born for one purpose: to point to the Christ. Thus, when the messengers from the Pharisees, notably priests and Levites, asked him, “Who art thou?” John confessed and denied not, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” It is important to note that “priests and Levites” were sent to examine John, because John was of the heritage of Aaron, himself a priest and a member of the hereditary priestly lineage stemming from Aaron, the brother of Moses. Also, they sent knowledgeable men, which indicated their seriousness. The fact that they sent anyone at all shows that the spiritual men of Israel, were indeed looking for something or someone.

Thus, John the Baptist, the last of the prophets, points towards the One who is the fulfillment of all prophecy in a self-effacing way. John took no credit for himself, but as he will later say in: Joh 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.” John the Baptizer is totally self aware of his mission as the harbinger of the Christ. This is the role for which he was born and it is the role he joyfully plays to the end. Jesus himself gives testimony to John when he says in Mat 11:9-11: “But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” This is high praise, indeed, coming from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Why all this discussion about John the Baptizer? We talk about John because he talks about and testifies to the One for whom the approaching Christmas season is all about. Thus, John points to the Christ, who is living Theology itself.

All of us, laymen and clergy alike, must have a firm foundation of theology in these spiritually perilous times. While we don’t need, or can attain, the level of erudition that Christ displayed even as a young man, as his parents found him “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them, and asking them questions. “ We do, however, need enough theology to be able to recognize truth from error.

As you well know, there is plenty of error these days. We find it in many areas and in many varieties, all too numerous to speak of in one session.

Today, however, we are going to speak of the Truth. To find truth and to find some of the most concise and most correct theology right at our fingertips, all we must do is turn to the Gospel of John. Reading as little as the first three verses, we garner several important truths about Christ: (John 1:1-3): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God (Christ is the pre-existent Word - Ho Logos, always with God the Father), and the Word was God (Christ is God, co-equal and eternal). The same was in the beginning with God. (Christ is begotten, not made or created, as the Arians thought). All things were made by him (he is the Creator); and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (He is Self-sufficient God –autotheos –who alone created all things.)

Thus, this is the One to whom John pointed:
1. The eternal One, Lord and God
2. The Son who had co-equal glory with the Father before all time.
3. He who created all things ex nihilo, out of nothing
4. He who was both perfect God and perfect Man in one Person.
Any other assertions about Christ are contrary to the teachings of the historic Church and are heretical.

We all know the times are spiritually perilous. As we see some of the mainline churches, as well as many of our Pentecostal and Fundamentalist brethren, move away from the historic creeds and traditional theology of the Church, we are seeing many of the old heresies creep back in to the Church. We recognize that our Enemy below, Satan, is not creative, but is merely repetitive and persistent, as we’ve mentioned many., many times before. Thus, as the old heresies are recycled, we should not be amazed or even surprised. Instead, we should be thankful for the Word of God that we read and the Word of God in the Sacraments that we ingest and for correct belief in the Nicene Creed, which we affirm. We should be thankful that we stand on the Rock of Christ day by day, season by season, and year by year.

This is what we celebrate now, in our Christmas season. Not as the world celebrates their Christmas merchandizing season, which runs from early November to the 25th of December and then they are done. No, rather we celebrate Christ’s first Advent, which begins on the 25th of December, Christ-mass Day, the Nativity of our Lord and continues until the glorious Epiphany, or The Feast of the Manifestation of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, on the 6th of January.

This is the true Christian Christmas season. We all recognize, however, how difficult this is to do in our modern, move-to-the-next-event society. After the 25th, the world will be rushing towards the New Year’s Celebration. Christmas will be forgotten.
The world rushes on, in break-neck fashion to the next thing, which, for the most part, concerns revelry and drunkenness as it celebrates the onset of the New Year. The world looks for a New Year, which it hopes will be better, but will simply be the same cycle of quiet desperation, broken up by one secular celebration after another. The secular world doesn’t really know why it is so incomplete, but we Christians do.

This Christmas season, starting on the 25th and running until January 6th, let us all hold Christ in our hearts in a special way. Somehow, in our interior lives, despite the rush and hurry and madness that surrounds us, let us all cherish the One who came to us, our Emmanuel, the perfect God-man who came to tabernacle with us, for the sole purpose of redeeming our fallen natures and to exalt our humanity into the Godhead itself.

This is Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of all prophecy. This is Jesus Christ, our High Priest, who offers mediation and intercession for us to the Father. This is Jesus Christ, the King of all Creation.

Let us honor Him. worship Him and exalt Him in our hearts, now for these next 12 days of Christmas and for ever.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

AMEN

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Grace, Forgiveness and Ingratitude
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church

Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, 2010


Matthew 18:23 "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.”

How do you feel when you have done something for someone and it is rejected? Or, how do you feel when you have helped someone out, perhaps in a major way, and it is not appreciated? We all know that it is not a good feeling.

In today’s Gospel, we hear about all of this in an amazing story of grace, forgiveness and ingratitude in a brief parable from our Lord Jesus Christ. In it, Christ speaks to all of these topics, but focuses on one of the central themes in all of Christianity: forgiveness. Matthew relates how Peter came to Jesus and asked, in Matthew 18:21, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" What an interesting question!, Maybe some of us might wonder why Peter sought to quantify forgiveness, or even to number the amount of times a person might receive it from another. Perhaps one answer for this quandary on Peter’s part lies in the fact that the Prophet Amos set forgiveness to three times and gives a warning that God may not withhold punishment for the fourth trespass (Amos 1:3-13; 2:1-6). Recall how he thundered in his prophecy, (Amos 1:6) “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because…” and here he gave various reasons why the fourth offense was unforgiveable. In the same sense, some rabbinic teachers themselves also set a limit on the number of times one might be forgiven to three, in line with the prophecy, perhaps because they thought that repentance on the offender’s part might not be genuine.

Thus, when Peter says, “how many times shall I forgive my brother, up to seven times?” he may have actually thought he was doing well in our Lord’s eyes because he was going beyond the prophetical and rabbinical limit. Yet, Christ, in line with His Divine Character, totally explodes the limited expectation of man by an almost unthinkable degree. He says, Matthew 18:22 “I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” To the Hebraic mind, this would have carried a certain amount of resonance mainly because of the principle of vengeance being carried out seventy times seven as was first stated in the Book of Genesis, chapter 4. Here Jesus characteristically fulfills and perfects this principle by applying it not to vengeance, but to forgiveness. Thus, a Hebrew would understand this number as expressing a virtually unlimited amount.

Christ further expounds this principle in a parable, using one of his favorite teaching strategies, an analogy. Once again, He makes the profound simple and transmits great truth through this device. He tells us of a great king who was settling accounts with his servants. Some commentators saw this as the accounting due to a suzerain from his tax collectors. In this parable, the king is settling up with his debtors. One man owes ten thousand talents, an impossibly huge amount. Putting this into perspective, one must realize the combined annual tribute of Galilee and Perea just after the death of the repressive Herod the Great came to only two hundred talents and entire tribute of Judea, Samaria and Idumea came to six hundred talents, as told to us by Josephus. . This fact sets in deep relief the poor man’s predicament and reveals the character of the illustration. In this case, the debt was more than all the hard currency that existed in the whole country at the time!”

Even so, when the man falls downs and pleads for mercy, the King is moved and grants him not just a reprieve in terms of time, but actually forgives him the entire debt. This is incredible. The man is free.

Then in a gross example of ingratitude, this same servant goes out from the presence of the King and finds a fellow servant, who owed him a very little amount of money, 100 pence. Now, a pence was worth about 14 cents, so the contrast to the amount the original servant owed to the amount is immense and actually quite ludicrous.

The end of the story is just; his fellow servants inform the Lord of his outrageous behavior and he is delivered to the tormentors until he can pay the debt, which, as we’ve seen, is not very likely. Thus, the man’s fate is sealed.

Christ closes this parable with a solemn statement: so our Heavenly Father will deal with us if we do not forgive, from the heart, those who sin against us. Where is this same thought echoed? Surely it is in the great prayer that Christ gave us, the Our Father. In that prayer, we say, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trepass against us.” Thus, even our forgiveness is conditional, as we forgive the sins of others. This is very telling and very solemn, especially if we should act like the ungrateful servant.

Yet, to the true penitent, God’s love and forgiveness is not limited. Just as the King forgave his debtor an impossibly heavy debt, so God forgives us our impossibly heavy load of sin and guilt. Without berating all of us with our known burden of sin, we know that the only price God would accept was the only one that God could pay. This, of course, was accomplished by God the Son. Yet, despite this, one might be tempted to say, “How do I owe God anything?”

To the unspiritual man, this is indeed an excellent question. What, thinks he, do I owe God? This thought may occur if the thought ever enters his head, which is probably unlikely. Not being negative or nasty, but St. Paul tells us in tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one”
The world thinks Christianity is foolishness, yet the Christian in his/her walk with God judges all things, rightly, with the mind of Christ.
While the natural or carnal man does not consider things that the Christian takes as items for great thanksgiving: things such as common grace, which actually restrains us from being as bad as we could be, or God’s wonderful sunshine and water that produce the fruits of the earth. Or, even man’s ability to offer love to his fellow man, which is merely a faint reflection of God’s love for us. To all of these things the Christian appreciates, while the carnal man may have some vague sense of gratitude to some impersonal force of nature for producing the good of the world. There is a world of difference between the Christian mindset and the natural man’s worldview.

Thus, we return to the question, “What do we owe God?” How are we debtors to Him? Aside from the common blessings that He pours on all men, we Christians do indeed owe a debt that we cannot pay. This debt incurred a payment that is both truly incalculable and truly universal. This payment allows us, who desire to be children of God, to escape our old nature and become something new. Not only in this life are we to demonstrate newness, both in our fresh and frank acceptance of the things of the Spirit and our conduct in the world, but also someday to be glorified and perfected so that we may see God.

The reason, of course, for our indebtedness to God is that He gave us the very, very, best that He had to redeem us, His Only, Holy and blessed Son. God redeemed us so that we could enjoy Him forever. That, my beloved brothers and sisters, is a payment worth more than anything in this world. That is why you and I are debtors to the extreme, in regards to God.

The point is this: we, who have been given everything by Him who forgives us completely through the sacrifice of His Son, cannot afford to withhold forgiveness from others. We have been forgiven; thus we must forgive others their trespasses, or we risk the abrogation of God’s gracious forgiveness to us.

Even if that weren’t the case, we would still be guilty of the most heinous, the most callous, and the most extreme ingratitude of all.
When we acknowledge our transgressions and offer humble repentance, Almighty God, our heavenly Father, forgives us. Can not we, who have received this grace, do the same? Can not we return a bit of God’s grace to the one who sins against us? The answer to this is rhetorical, of course, and can only be answered in the quiet recesses of our own souls.

We recognize that forgiveness is difficult; forgiveness is hard. Sometimes, it is the hardest thing to do, simply because we do not want to do it. Maybe the hurt is too deep, maybe the trauma, physical or otherwise, is too extensive. Maybe, God forbid, we want to cherish our hurt a little while longer, denying the forgiveness we know that we should give. I was once told by a teacher that while children will usually forgive you quite readily, adults are usually different story.

Yet, in the miracle of the grace of God, forgiveness is exactly what we must do in order to be healed. When we offer true, from-the-heart forgiveness, something miraculous happens to us as well. God, in His mercy and grace, begins to heal us. The forgiveness we give to others is like a balm to the soul for ourselves. It is life-giving, health-affirming goodness that we accrue to ourselves as we give it away. In the incredible, wonderful superfluity of goodness that is God, when we do what we should, God rewards us with His Grace and God rewards us with Himself.

This is the miracle of forgiveness. This is what our God is all about.

Matthew 18:35 - 19:1 "So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses."

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
18th Sunday After Trinity 2010
October 3, 2010

“What is the great commandment in the Law?”

(Mat 22:35) Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

This passage of Matthew, taken for today’s Gospel, may possibly be one of the pivotal moments in the New Testament and, quite possibly, for the entire Christian faith. This is, indeed a very large claim, but there are a couple of reasons for it. First, in what Jesus says next, he will turn the entire religious system of the ancient world on its ear. Second, he will give us the most concise and eloquent restatement of the Law of Moses to the very experts of the Law, those who were tasked in keeping it holy and undefiled as possible. Let’s consider each point in turn.

First of all, we all know the story, as Christ was “tempted” by a lawyer. As usual, the Pharisees were playing their deadly games with Him by attempting to get him to say something with which they might accuse him. Being schooled in the finer points of the law, they made the study of legal minutiae their life’s work. So, we presume that they were trying to get Jesus to emphasize one part of the Law over another, thus leaving himself open to some sort of theological charge that Jesus was denigrating one section of the law, while exalting another, or that he was invalidating the Law altogether. They were, as usual, preparing a trap.

This is a trap which Jesus deftly sidesteps, while profoundly altering their understanding of the Law with just one or two statements. In his reply to the lawyer, He completely altered the way Man looks to God and the way God appears to Man. How?

The answer lies in the question of the lawyer itself. He asks, “Master, what is the great commandment in the Law?” On the surface, it sounds like an honest question. Yet, the word in the Greek is peira,zw (peirazo {pi-rad'-zo}). This word, if used in a bad sense, means “to test one maliciously, craftily to put to the proof his feelings or judgments, or to try or test one's faith, virtue, character, by enticement to sin.” Translated in the Authorized Version as “tempted”, we may easily surmise that the question was laid out with evil intent.

It also shows the understanding of the ancient mind, and especially the ancient Jewish mind, in regards to Deity. What was the basis of the Law? How did Man relate to God? We know that it was simply based on obeying the precepts of the Law and included frequent sacrifice. Once became righteous by doing, by acting, and by performing. In short, one became righteous because of what one did, not because of what one was. Righteousness, and thus the possibility of salvation, was based on works. Thus one built, through “sweat equity”, their own personal house of salvation in the ancient world. It is the same in every single works-oriented system of salvation today as well.

The problem is, as St. Paul reminds over and over again, is that such a house is built on a foundation of sand. No one is justified by his works because, at our core, despite our best efforts, we run into our own sinfulness again and again. Recall St. Paul’s anguished cry of frustration, as he says from Romans 7:24: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” This cry comes at the end of a long discussion of his desire to do what is right and proper, according to the Law, as well as his utter inability to do so. Again, despite what the illuminati of the world desperately want to believe, that the heart of man is basically good, we know that this is not so. History belies that wish with complete consistency..

Thus, works are not the answer. There is not one commandment in the Mosaic Law that man can do to save himself. His work and obedience and effort come to naught because in the end, salvation does not come from works. Instead, Christ sums up the law by saying that man can do one thing: he can love. How is he to do this? Simply, 1) love God with your whole being: with all of your heart, with all of your mind and with all of your soul; and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. We Anglicans recognize this is as the Summary of the Law; which we hear each time we celebrate the Divine Eucharist.
In beautiful brevity, Jesus “boils down” the hundreds of legalistic commandments developed by the Scribes and Pharisees to two short commandments: love God and love your neighbor.

This was so radical that it must have shaken the Pharisees to their very roots. Their whole belief system, if only they realized it, had been changed. Now, man no longer looks fearfully to the heavens as he seeks to ingratiate or placate the Deity through legalistic obedience, sacrifice and rigid behavior. After all, how does one know when one has done enough to merit salvation? In a works-type system, how does one even know that one is saved?

Now, because of Christ, things were changed. Now man was called upon to love his God with his entire being and to love his neighbor as himself. Man was called upon to open himself to the infinite possibilities of an infinite Love. Man’s understanding of God, through Christ, had been altered irrevocably, forever. Love was the answer for man’s salvation, not his own feeble works.

For those of us who may think this type of statement sounds rather like a platitude, let us remind ourselves what life in the ancient world was like. It certainly did not run on love, but on raw power, merciless military might, the subjugation of entire peoples, and ruthless exploitation. At the risk of overextending this thought, let us say that the ancient world moved on the pitiless lubricant of human misery. To top it off, it was ruled by law, stern and foreboding.

Now, comes Jesus Christ with this radical, the incredible statement: Love God with all of your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. For those who heard Christ in the past, are hearing Him in the present, and will hear Him in the future, things will never be the same. A new law has come to town. For those who hear the words of Jesus, it is a whole new ballgame.

Actually, what Christ did was to clarify the great dichotomy in the Ten Commandments. You will recall that originally, there were two tables of the Law that Moses carried down from Mt. Sinai. The first table dealt with God, the second with man. If we truly love God and love our neighbor as ourselves, these commandments will be the focus of our efforts, with the help of the indwelling Holy Spirit..

The other vastly important point in this passage of Scripture is that Jesus testifies to Himself as the completion of the Law and the completion of the Covenants made with Israel in an indirect, yet forceful way.

This is why Jesus turns the tables on the Pharisees by asking them a question: (Mat 22:42) “What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The Son of David.” Their answer is instructive, as they respond, “The Son of David” and it is correct, being taken out of the Prophets of the Old Testament. But Jesus shows their incomplete understanding of the Messiah when He says,

(Mat 22:43-45) “He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his son?”


What Our Lord is talking about here is the miracle that is Christ. He is referring to that once-in-history happening when God took on manhood. Thus, Jesus is the son of David in the flesh, as he is of the house and lineage of David. Yet, he is also God, whom David in spirit and in devotion calls Lord. Jesus Christ is the hypostatic union, where God and Man co-inhere perfectly in one Person, Jesus Christ.

Remember this is not as the Muslims claim, that Christians are idolators, and saying that we believe Man became God. We don’t believe this. Rather we affirm the Incarnation of Jesus Christ, where God became Man. This is very important, because to be orthodox, we must believe that Christ is both perfect God and perfect Man. The two natures do not intermix, or get confused, or get set aside.

Instead, this perfect God-Man came to save us from our fallen-ness, our “self”-ishness, to be united with Him in bliss forever. This Christ is not only the complete revelation of the Law, he is also the complete and final covenant with Man. St Paul sums it up in: Col 1:18-19: “And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;”


This is what Christ was telling the Pharisees. They must have got the message, if not to the point of belief, then to the point where they realized that further debate was pointless. The Gospel for the day tells us: (Mat 22:46) “And no man was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”

So it is, when the arrogance of man meets its match in the infinitude of God. Instead of faithless questions, may we ever offer endless affirmation and praise to Jesus Christ, our only Lord and Savior.

(Jud 1:25) To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost,
AMEN

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Compassion, Glory and Majesty

16th Sunday in Trinity 2010


Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Sept. 19, 2010

“O Lord, let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. ”

Luke 7:14 “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.”
What is miraculous? What is a miracle? One source says that a miracle is”An event that appears inexplicable by the laws of nature and so is held to be supernatural in origin or an act of God:”
Seen in this light, the selection from the Gospel of Luke for today is nothing short of miraculous. In it, Christ shows his complete mastery over Nature and the afflictions of Man. Recall that for the week before last, the 14th Sunday after Trinity, Jesus healed the ten lepers, freeing them from the bondage of a grievous disease. In this week’s selection, Christ raises a young man from the dead. Why would He do this? Did He have a goal in mind, or was He simply seeking Glory for Himself? What was his motivation, if there was one? Let us hold that question while we consider the passage.

Luke tells us plainly that Christ had “compassion” on the widow. Why? Christ, knowing all things, knew that this woman had only one means of support, her son. According to the story he was now dead in his youth. Recall that the state of widowhood was dire in 1st century Palestine. If a woman was young enough, she could remarry and be a wife. Her other option was to be a prostitute; if she was young and attractive enough. Otherwise, poverty loomed over many virtuous but unfortunate women. These were the very limited options for females in those days. Without family or riches, a woman’s place could be perilous indeed.

But, Jesus had compassion on her. He tells her, “Do not weep.” Then, he touches the funeral bier, causing those carrying it to stop. It is obvious what kind of authority Jesus Christ exuded. He stops the death procession with a touch and with his Presence, then commands the young man to arise from the grip of mortality: (Luk 7:15) “And the one who was dead sat up and began to speak. And He delivered him to his mother.’

We must notice several important points about this story. First, it is very important to note that the young man was actually dead, not just sick. Christ comes to him and raises him from his death. Thus, the first parallel is that in the same way He will raise us up at the last day. This is the most obvious and easily gleaned insight of the passage. Second, note that the young man begins to speak immediately upon being revived, presumably with the words of praise for God. Christ then heals the situation completely by delivering the young man back to his mother. This mends the rupture made in the family by his premature death.

Without being too simplistic, there are some very powerful parallels here to our lives. First, we know that we meet Christ dead in our sins. St. Paul tells us in Colossians 2:13: “And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;” In short, as Paul is fond of telling us, and rightly so, we are actually dead in our sins before Christ calls us to salvation. We also know that in some strange and wonderful way, God calls to Himself those who will be saved. We, who are called and hear that clarion call of salvation, as the young man did, will be saved through God’s Grace.

Note also that it is Christ who stops the procession towards death, vividly illustrated in this story by Jesus physically stopping the bier from its appointed destination. Not to belabor a point, but only Christ can do this, stopping our journey towards eternal death by his personal intervention. Not Buddha, not Mohammed, not Allah, not Sun-yat-sen, nor even the multiplicity of Hindu gods can halt one’s total oblivion, or in truth, one’s damnation. Only Christ can reach into the shady abyss that is death and extract from it the shining kernel of an eternal soul, to be loved and cherished with Him forever.

Let’s expand just a bit on that point. We truly don’t come alive until Christ touches us. True, we can seem vibrant, happy, full of zest and enthusiasm, but are we really? History, especially very recent history, is literally “chock full” of celebrities who seem to have it all, but after a period of meteoric success, succumb to depression and self-loathing, even to the point of drug overdose or outright suicide. Why? One can seem to have it all and still be desperately unhappy.
One can have it all, yet be empty inside. Perhaps this is obvious to the Christian, for he knows that only Christ can give true fulfillment and satisfaction.

Yet, when Christ approaches the funeral bier that is our soul, absent Him, and touches it, miraculous things begin to happen. We begin to have new life. We too sit up and speak new things, testifying to the Glory of God. It is Christ that halts our slide into death and damnation.

Forgive me for being painfully obvious, but the story as related in Luke is very straightforward and perhaps our understanding of if should be so as well. As we live in Christ, so shall we die in Christ and so shall we be resurrected in Christ. It is that point that St. Luke wants us to get.

Returning to the original question, why did Christ have compassion on the widow? Why did He bother to raise her son? What, really, was the point? That is a question that can be answered only by God. It is answer that is caught up in the whole mystery of God. It involves issues such as God’s Glory and His magnificence, but most of all, it deals with His love. We don’t understand this love, nor are we truly able to comprehend it. We don’t understand a Being that truly loves us more and better than we love ourselves. How? Why? It is a mystery of the first magnitude.

Yet, although we truly cannot comprehend it, we can recognize a demonstration of it. For example, this love was demonstrated very clearly and tangibly in today’s Gospel. It is love that is universal yet incomprehensible, vast, yet localized, transcendent, yet immanent.

Thus, we must ask, is it enough merely to bask in the immensity and profundity of God’s love? Are we merely to be passive receptors of it? The question is rhetorical but the answer is intensely personal. We will submit to you that Christianity is a call to action tempered by the Holy Spirit.
That is, rather than just be passive and appreciative; we ought to be active and reciprocal. May the light inside us be so intense that it shines through the fissures of our being to help illuminate those around us. Let them see the light and want it too. After, there is something different about a committed Christian. There is something different about us. Let is simply be that the world knows us by our love.

Therefore, we must leave it up to St. Paul to summarize this magnificent love, as he says from our Epistle for the day: (Eph 3:20-21) “Now to Him who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, forever. Amen.” This is our Christ. He is the supreme example of divine love for us.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Hubris and Humility

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, 2010

Hubris and Humility

Please consider these two prayers, taken from today’s St. Luke’s gospel selection; first, “God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican”; and second: “God be merciful to me a sinner.”

They are most interesting, both because of their content and their purpose. Could there be any clearer contrast? Most commentators don’t think so and state that Christ’s purpose was precisely to draw our attention to the contrast between these two fascinating characters appearing in this parable from the 18th Chapter of Luke.

The first prayer, that of the Pharisee, bristles with hubris. It is full of self-satisfaction and self-love. The Pharisee, obviously a good man in terms of the Old Covenant, is really outstanding. He avoids the grosser sins of the multitude. He doesn’t cheat on his wife, he doesn’t extract money unfairly, and he is just in his dealings. Best of all, he doesn’t engage in a sordid profession, “even as this publican.” We also learn that he fasts twice in the week and gives tithes of all that he possesses. He goes over and above what is required in the Law. Could there be any finer example of righteousness?

Now, for the publican. He stands “afar off”, in direct contrast to the Pharisee’s “striking a pose” before God. He won’t even so much as lift up his eyes to heaven, but stands back and smites his breast, asking God to be “merciful to me a sinner.” He doesn’t parade his good deeds before God. He doesn’t presume that he has any kind of prior standing with God, based upon works, but instead asks for mercy.

Once again, could there be any clearer contrast? We see the Pharisee: proud, boastful, self-righteous, neither seeking or expecting anything from God. After all, it seems as if he has life fairly well figured out. It rather seems that God owes him someone for all his righteous behavior. He is truly one of the Chosen, one of the elite few, or so he thinks.
Then, we have the tax collector: humble, penitent, only seeking only mercy from God. He doesn’t ask for justification from God, nor does he really expect it the way the Pharisee does. He merely throws himself on the divine mercy of God.

In the end, we know which approach has success, for Christ tells us:” I tell you, this man (the publican) went down to his house justified rather than the other….” The reason for this is clear: “…for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” God doesn’t need or appreciate man’s feeble and ultimately futile attempts at self-justification. To quote Isaiah 64:6: ”But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Truer words were never spoken. The point is plain, of course. We do not receive justification in God’s eyes without God. Human efforts cannot but fail and in fact lead to more sin as, in the case of the Pharisee. His attempts to embrace and become perfected by an exterior code only lead to an over-weanng sense of pride, as seen by himself. In this light, the word “self-righteous” makes more and more sense. To sum it up, attempts to change the outwards acts or behaviors without affecting a change in the heart are futile and ultimately negative. Consider those in this world who claim to adhere to a rigorous moral code, only to kill innocent people through cowardly bomb blasts or other terrorist acts. What a paradox… We cannot help but be reminded of Jesus’ statement: “Wherefore by their fruits shall ye know them…”

In this case, the publican gets it exactly right. “God be merciful to a sinner”, he prays. God knows the failings of our heart, will and mind. If anyone knows our foibles and our sins, it is He that made all things. Once we recognize that all our vaunted righteousness is merely “filthy rags” in his sight and that without Him, we are nothing, we are on the right track to justification.

This parable, in a real and obvious way reminds us again of the great contrast in the Scriptures: Law vs. Grace. We know that God has laws and that His whole creation is governed by them. His moral law, too, is absolute. Yet, thanks be to God, it is tempered by His grace. Without this tempering of Law by divine grace and mercy, no one could be saved.

Yet, this grace must find its way to the soul ready to receive it. It comes not to the outwardly successful and self-assured Pharisee, but rather to the humble and spiritually broken publican. In the same way, it will come to us when we can receive it. There in the quiet, yet receptive chambers of the soul will God’s grace do its holy work of redemption and salvation.

What is more interesting and perhaps more troubling about this parable lies not just in the story itself, which is understandable and appreciated by all, but in its individual application.

This parable is not just an instructive story about two men. It is also a picture of each man and each woman’s soul and our imponderable dualism. It is no mystery that we too can be both Pharisee and publican simultaneously. As one commentator says: “There is something a bit terrifying about this parable. There is within every person that which makes it possible for him to do the same thing the Pharisee did. He can go to the place of worship and go through the forms of worship and still go home the same person he was!” We too, at least subconsciously, want to tell God how “good” we’ve been. Sometimes we too put our arm out of joint by patting ourselves on the back. It’s a natural human thing to do and, for out souls’ true welfare, it must be resisted vigorously. The more we engage is Phariseeism, the more we will stunt our soul’s true growth in righteousness. On the other hand, the more we engage in humility and penance, the more we will grow in love, peace and joy.

In the end, it does come down to a dualism, as in many things in life. Despite modern society’s protestations to the opposite, there is right and there is wrong. There is black and white. There is certainly good and evil. At the end of time, there will be the ultimate dualism of salvation and damnation. One will either be exalted forever with God, or one will debased forever in perdition.

Perhaps that is why Christ ends this particular lesson with the statement about exaltation and abasement. He who vaunts himself will be brought low. He who abases himself will be lifted up. This is true with no exception. Oftentimes, we see it happening right before our eyes. When it does, we Christians must suppress any sort of evil glee, even when, in our opinion it is well deserved. That determination is not up to us. At other times, we look at the evil prospering around us and remark with the Psalmist: (92:7) “When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish…” Those times, we do wonder a bit about the divine plan that seems to reward those with the strongest wills and the greatest appetites. We wonder until we finish the verse: “is it they shall be destroyed for ever:” In the end, we know that all of us shall reap what we have sown. Those who have sown love, joy and peace will receive that harvest a hundred-fold in Heaven.

Those who have sown discord, hate and faithlessness will certainly receive the same in their resurrection of eternal death.

As you know, Della and I read every day. She gets a lot done, while I usually enjoy the three or four pages I peruse before succumbing to sleep… Nevertheless, I am now more than halfway throughWilliam Shirer’s monumental The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, which is about 1200 pages long. In it, as I am permitted to explore the fanatical mind of Adolf Hitler, I am amazed at his absolute faithlessness to everything except his own megalomaniac will. It seems that Hitler, as well as the whole Nazi regime, or as Winston Churchill once put it, “the whole odious apparatus of Nazi rule” , broke every single promise it ever made, to everyone. How could it not? It was truly evil to the core. After reading this, one must contemplate, with horror, the unspeakable fate of such a man in the afterlife. Thus, in every way, we shall reap what we sow.

In the end result, we must resist every attempt made by ourselves, or by others in our behalf, to offer justification by our deeds. Such attempts can and will fail, always, every time. Only when we, as the publican, acknowledge our own wretchedness before God will He hear us. Upon hearing our anguished cries of “God be merciful to me a sinner”, He will do exactly that. Not based upon our frail deeds, but instead upon the mighty, completed work of Jesus Christ will He extend justification to us. Thus, once we realize, truly realize this we can relax into the loving will of God. Once we know this, we can confidently affirm, in the words of Christ: (Luk 18:14): “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted. “

AMEN.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Calling and Condition

The Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
5th Sunday in Trinity 2010

http://stbarnabasrec.org/index.html

“Calling and Condition…”

Our wonderful Gospel from St. Luke brings forth some interesting questions. How does God call us? How do we know when God calls us? What is the nature of our call? Finally, how do we respond?

First of all, in perhaps one of the greatest understatements ever, we must state that God calls each of us in different ways and in different fashions. Each man and woman hears the call of God in a different, intensely personal sort of way. This is, of course, obvious. Our Lord speaks to us all individually, if we are inclined to listen. What may be not so obvious is how He does it.

In the glory and magnificence that is God, He uses both unity in diversity and diversity in unity when calling us. What do we mean by that? Simply that Our Lord uses the same general means to call us, yet it is perceived and perhaps received in a myriad of ways.
Let us be more specific. Let us first state that God does indeed call all men. This call includes both the general call and the specific, individualized one that all men hear at some time in their life or another.

The general call of grace is one that was issued from the Cross. Christ, through His ultimate, one-time Sacrifice, called all men unto Him. There was, and is a general pouring out of grace from this act. Some men hear this and are moved in their soul to respond. Their response may be a great commitment, a greater yearning, or even just a greater curiosity. At the same time, there are many who never listen to this general call of grace.

All people also receive an individual call from God as well. He calls all people, someway, sometime in their life. Many, many people are led to follow that call. These people are destined to grow in the faith to whatever degree God has willed for them and to enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit and of the Church. There are also many, many other people who are called but do not or cannot answer that call, Why? That is a profound mystery known only to God Himself. We cannot presume to answer it.

Yet, within the general call of mankind there is a special subset, if you will, for those whom God’s call goes further, deeper and with a more persistent nature. These people respond with a stirring of the heart and of the spirit to God. These are those souls for whom the Spirit does not return empty to Him. Rather, through the advocacy and facilitation of the Holy Spirit, there is a communication, a link, a response that says “yes” to Him who calls all things.

The question is, how do we know when God call us and what is the nature of that call? This is difficult, because the answer is not at all satisfactory to those of us who admire clear, crisp answers and prefer nice, neat solutions. Here’s why: the reason is that one can’t give a perfect answer, except that one will simply “know” when He calls us. Here is where the diversity in unity is apparent. While His Call is general, our perception of it is individual and specific. Thus, there is no pat answer except that we will recognize it when it happens to us. As a younger man, searching for God, it was frustrating at times trying to hear the voice of God and seeking to know if God was calling me, probably because I was seeking the wrong things. God is heard more often in the quiet, small voice than in the babbling of strange tongues, or in the display of extra-normal manifestations of the Spirit.

While the “crash-boom” spiritual experiences are more dramatic, they are less common and may be less meaningful over time as well. How many of us have known someone who has had a remarkable conversion experience, perhaps in a dramatic way, and has turned their life over to Christ, only to revert to their old, unsatisfactory selves a short time afterward? Unfortunately it happens, especially if one is looking for the quality of the experience, rather than the durable nature of a changed life.

Sometimes it is far better to have a rather home-grown type of conversion, one that is private, deep and meaningful, but without the spiritual fireworks. Thus, in the quiet, interior of our souls, we sense God’s call. Often this call begins as an attraction, a “drawing towards”, if you will.
Something in us simply wants something, although it is not always apparent at first what that “it” is. It is also an unfortunate fact that a person’s calling comes usually not from a sense of comfort, but discomfort. That is, only in answering this call will the unsettled soul find some degree of peace.

For others, the call may be definitely more compelling, as in those someday ordained to Holy Orders. Many of the clergy were unsettled in their lives before they submitted to ordination. Sometimes, a spiritual, yet directionless man is headed in that direction. Not knowing what one wants to do before coming to Christ is a common affliction among those in the priesthood or diaconate. Although there is always “strife within the sod”, a man may have peace deep down at last when he has answered the call.

Yet, despite what our call may have been, or how it was received, the last and most important question is: how do we respond to it? Let’s look to our Gospel selection for answers.

First, we recognize that Christ was simply following ancient Jewish tradition in gathering disciples to him. Jewish doctors of the law often recruited disciples to teach Torah. Yet Christ did this, not by going to the Temple to select the “best and the brightest.” Instead, He went to the lake of Genessaret and taught the common crowds, which became so dense that they “pressed” upon him as he taught by the lake. They were hungry to hear him, for the people perceived the truth in what He was saying, as well as they way He delivered it. You’ll recall that one of the Gospels (Mat. 7:29) says, “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” In this case, as He was teaching by the Sea of Galilee, the people were actually “pressing” Him into the water!

The power of the Gospel and the truth of Jesus’ message caused them to press forward to hear. Here we must note, as always, that Christ wasn’t interested in teaching the “right” people or even as we see later in the passage, picking the “right” type of disciples. Instead, Jesus was interested in calling the “right” kind of men that would someday spread His Gospel of hope and salvation to the world.

In this case, and because of the great crowds, Jesus needed a place to teach, so He enters into one of the fishing boats nearby and asks the fisherman to push off a little into the lake so He can address the whole crowd; this he does and Jesus teaches the people. After speaking for a while, he turns to the fisherman, who happens to be Simon Peter, and tells him to do something. He says: “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Simon’s answer is instructive: he says, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net. In other words, “we’ve worked all night, we’ve caught nothing and we’ve even cleaned our nets, but if you say so, we’ll let down the net.”

Peter at this point is not impressed, knowing that day was not the best time to catch fish, as well as being bone-tired from a fruitless night’s work. Yet, Jesus’ calm, commanding presence compels him to do so and his attitude, understandably, changes dramatically. Why? The miraculous draft of fish is so great that the net begins to break and they fill both boats full to the point of sinking! Note Peter’s reaction as well. Unlike the crowd, who wants Jesus to stay with them so they can use Him, in the form of healing or feeding or whatever, Simon recognizes the ultimate holiness standing there with him and is terrified by it. Recall that Simon was an ancient Hebrew who believed that if one were to come in contact with God’s holiness, the result would be instant destruction.

For once, Peter gets it exactly right. As you know, in the Bible Simon Peter is sort of a Biblical “Everyman” figure. On one hand, he’s brash, tempestuous and impulsive. On the other hand, he’s afraid, doesn’t tell the truth and he’s actually cowardly. But, he always cares. He’s passionate and definitely not lukewarm. He is, in fact, someone God can work with. God can turn great sinners into great saints, but He cannot turn lukewarm people into anything.

Jesus then calms Simon and then issues His call, saying “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” He calls Peter just as he is, where he is. This is exactly what God does for us. He calls us as we are, where we are. He calls us “To launch out into the deep and to let down our nets for a draught.”

We, like Peter, are often afraid. Perhaps we too have “toiled all the night” in the deep, dark places of our souls “and have taken nothing.” That is, until Christ calls us, our lives’ nets are empty until they are filled with the miraculous “catch” of Christ’s love. Certainly, one can seem to have it all, job, money, family, success. But without God, there comes a moment in everyone’s life when they realize that they “have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” There’s a time in everyone’s life when they ask, in the words of the old Peggy Lee song. “Is that all there is?” You see, our lives’ nets are truly empty without Christ.

Remember, however, that we don’t catch Christ as much as He calls us and catches us. And rather than be caught in a net, we are caught in a benevolent “web” of love and caring and trust. When Christ calls us to “launch out into the deep”, we are never alone. He is with us and He always fills our nets with Himself. It’s truly a miraculous catch.
It all begins when we hear His call, listen to it and respond with all of our heart.

Luke 5:8 “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

AMEN.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Our Earnest Expectation

The Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
June 28, 2010

“Our Earnest Expectation…”
4th Sunday After Trinity 2010

Rom 8:18-19 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”


Our epistle selection for the day comes from one of the most vibrant, most triumphant sections of the New Testament, St. Paul glorious eighth chapter of The Epistle to the Romans. This one chapter proclaims the believer’s great claim of salvation in Christ, his justification of the same, and the ultimate fulfillment of that justification. One would hard pressed to find a greater collection of affirmations of the Christian Faith in one place and in such a succinct manner.

One point, however, concerns us today. It is one that is central to the entire selection and one that is supported by the following statements in the passage. That one central point is our “earnest expectation” of “the glory which shall be revealed in us.” As we begin to examine this, please notice one very important point that is central to the whole discussion. That is simply the statement “the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Note please, that the Apostle Paul doesn’t say, “the glory which shall be revealed” to us, but in us. This is an important distinction. Why is this? Let us compare and contrast the two.

When one thinks of the Glory of God, we would surmise that most people in the Church think of some glory they see, as in “mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord…”, which of course, concerns the glory of the great and terrible Day of the Lord. Additionally, this glory may take the form of some great miracle, where God’s glory is revealed in some mighty act. An excellent example would be the parting of the Red Sea from the Old Testament. This would have been a simply stunning sight as one witnessed the great walls of water on both sides the company of the Israelites as they fled from the Egyptian host. While this is indeed indicative of the Glory of God, it is not the same as what St. Paul envisions in today’s Epistle.

Rather, St. Paul speaks of the glory that is to revealed in us. This glory is evidently so remarkable, so transformational that it creates an “earnest expectation” in us, (the sons and daughters) of God, as we await our ultimate manifestation.
What is this earnest manifestation for which St. Paul’s says we await so eagerly? It is our long-awaited change, our perfection in righteousness, for which the believer longs for all his life.

Wait just a minute. That may sound a bit funny to us. We daresay that if one asked most people what they long for, it’s a pretty good bet that they wouldn’t say anything about perfection in righteousness! Most folks want a lot of stuff, but probably not that.

On the other hand, why would St. Paul say something like that if it didn’t have real significance for our lives? The fact is, he wouldn’t. The fact is, all of us, deep down, know that all is not perfect with our soul. Deep down, in our inner recesses, there is a part of us that longs for completion. That doesn’t mean that we are not happy or don’t have some sense of contentment. If one does possess that, it is wonderful, perhaps even combined with a healthy amount of self-esteem. That is totally acceptable, as long as it is Christ-centered and not merely anchored in the love of self. Yet, one can have this contentment, this joy in Christ, while still knowing that there is more…

That “more” is that to which St. Paul is referring. He tells us in Rom 8:20-21: “For the creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” In other words, God has created in us an expectation of perfection. Paul terms it as an escape from “corruption”, i.e. decay, into “the liberty of the glory of the children of God.” We will become something better, something eternal, even perfect, when our change comes. Thus, St. Paul calls it the “liberty of the glory of the children of God”

Here we have two key concepts that feed directly into our wonderful expectation. The first is liberty, which seems to be a key concept in Christianity. We Christians are free to do as we will. We may even use our free will to sin, although that is certainly not what the Lord wants for us. Liberty does not mean license, although many mistaken believers have sometimes strayed down that path. No, the liberty of God is the liberty to be free of sin, to escape its power over us and to enjoy the heady air of true freedom. When we have God’s liberty, we can have the freeing force of virtue in our lives that refuses to be taken in by the cloying deceits of sin. Just like virtue, sin has its recompence. Unlike virtue, which always pays dividends, sin always takes a negative toll on us in some way or another. We all know that sin is slavery, whereas virtue is freedom.

Perhaps this weight of sin and the desire to be perfected from it is the reason that St. Paul says in Rom 8:22: “ For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now. “ Most of the World really doesn’t know it or even realize it, but it really wants to be delivered from this weight. The weight of sin comes from the original curse laid on it by the sin of Adam, from the Fall. This will all be set right someday, when the Creation is ultimately presented as a spotless bride to God the Father by God the Son. When that happens, all creation, man, animal and mineral, will be freed from their prehistoric curse. The pain will be erased and then the whole Creation will no longer “groan” and “travail” as it does now.

“That sounds great”, one might say, “but how does it concern me?” First of all, it may not be of any concern whatsoever to those to whom the spiritual life means nothing. That is, it takes seeing life through the eyes of Christ for this passage to have its full significance. The whole idea of sin, righteousness, redemption and perfection must have some meaning to us. As we are all painfully aware, there are many people to whom this makes no sense at all. It is simply not a concern to them.

Yet it does to us. What then, does my own “perfection in righteousness” mean to me? First, as we’ve mentioned, is the ability to avoid sin. This ability will enable us to attain to the complete and blessed nature of a Child of God. It means that once and for all, we will not have the heavy mass of sin around us. We will be “light in the Lord.” While we can always make progress towards that goal while we are in the body here on Earth, we know we cannot be completely victorious. Not yet. Someday, however, we can and we will…

That’s why the “groaning” of the Christian is not unheard by God. St. Paul notes that even we Christians, who have the “firstfruits” of the Spirit, do groan also. Perhaps he means that those of us who have experienced a little “taste” of the Holy Spirit in our lives are left wanting more. The Image of God that was imprinted on us by our baptism and the still greater sense of the ultimate that worship in Christ brings are only hints of the glory to come. Thus, the groanings and yearnings of the Christian have more poignancy than those of the World. Whereas the World groans within itself because it senses somehow that it has pain and incompleteness, we Christians are cognizant of our goal and that for which we look earnestly heavenward. We are looking for the manifestation of the Sons of God in order to achieve our fullest glory. We are simply looking forward to the adoption of our body. Paul goes further and terms this as our “redemption.”

What does this mean? We all know what it means to redeem something. It means to “buy back.” Of course this is what Christ did for us. He literally bought back our souls and bodies from their original disposition, that of hell and eternal death.
Now, because of Christ, St. Paul is able to confidently affirm “our adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body.” This is the beginning our our glory, “the glory which will be revealed in us.”

It begins with the glorification of our body. Although we are not exactly sure what this will entail, we can take the plain words of Scripture at their face value. They tell us that we will have a glorified body. If it is anything like that of Christ’s, and we assume that it will, it will be beautiful and glistening white. It may not be bound by physical constraints. It will certainly not be subject to hunger, thirst, pain, or ordinary human desire. It will be a body of freedom. As Christ is, so shall we be. Not that we shall be divine, for that is impossible. Yet, we shall share in his Glory in such a way as to make pale the most wonderful of human experiences. We shall take part in the wonderful “manifestation of the sons of God.”

That is our wonderful destiny as Christians. We are indeed blessed in that we have the chance now, in this life, to grow in holiness and to experience the first fruits of that growth. Virtue does have its rewards. Yet, these rewards are small in comparison to the real ones, the ones that can only occur when we are in the presence of God. These can never pass away. Only then will we truly understand our true potential, our true nature, and our true joy.

Rom 8:18 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.“ AMEN

Perfection in

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sublime Love

The Paeon of Love – 1 John 7-21
1st Sunday after Trinity, 2010

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church

As you know, we are now entering into the longest season of the Church year, Trinity. We have just completed the last of the major feast days of the Church year, Trinity Sunday, in which we celebrated one of the key mysteries of the Christian faith, the makeup of the eternal Godhead itself.

We know that Trinity is meant to be a “season of sanctification.” In other words, the Trinity season is meant to be a long, restful season of reflection, learning and growth in the Christian faith. It purposefully echoes the time of year where both growth (summer) and harvest (fall) occur. We are to grow in the faith and also harvest some spiritual fruit during this church season.

Today it is for our collective pleasure and mutual edification that 1 John 4 appears as the Epistle for the day. It is St. John’s great proclamation of love, God’s love for us. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the most moving and even most spiritually provocative passages in the N.T. It’s been said that one cannot read 1 St. John 4 without having some sort of spiritual awakening or stirring. Maybe that sounds a bit superstitious, as if the Word of God were some sort of magic talisman or charm-bringer. Nevertheless, it is true.

In my own case, I was in an EYC meeting in our parish church in Hendersonville, TN when we were studying this passage. Upon reading it and meditating upon it with the group, I, in the words of John Wesley, “felt my spirit strangely warmed” and actually felt, for the first time in my life, the presence of the Holy Spirit. It was uplifting, lightening, and almost estatic. I knew that there was Someone in my life that I had not felt before.

How can this particular passage of Scripture have such incredible power? How can it evoke such a response from a soul? To answer that, one would need a year or more just to do it justice and we have just a few brief minutes! Nonetheless, let us consider just a few points to make this passage meaningful, while we embark upon our Trinity-tide journey in holiness.

Perhaps this entire lesson from Scripture can be boiled down to one question that it brings forth, namely, what is the quality of Love? Is this quality nebulous or is it material? Finally, is it genuine, or just merely feigned? Put another way, how real is this love?

We can answer this is in the words of St. John himself, as he tells us: (1Jo 4:7-8) “ Beloved, let us love one another:” So far, so good. Here we have a simple admonishment to love one another. This is excellent, but why? The answer is simple and begins to show us the quality of love, as John, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, says: “..for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” Restating this: Love is of God. Every one that loves is born of God and knows Him. The reverse is also true: he that does not love is not of God and does not know Him. This is rather straight-forward. It begins to illustrate the nature of love, according to St. John.

Then, John tells us one of the sweetest, most sublime statements in the entire New Testament: “God is love.” God is love. We now have our first hint of the quality of love. It is God’s most endearing attribute and the one with which He most closely identifies. It is an amazing statement when one truly considers its ramifications.

First, seen through the eyes of faith, it tells us that the quality of love is absolute. If God chooses to say, through His Holy Word, that this is His absolute attribute, it is truly amazing. Note that John did not say, “God is power.” He did not say, “God is Omnipotence”, or “God is Wisdom”, or “God is all-seeing.” Of course, we believe that God has all of these attributes. No, instead he said, “God is Love.” This assigns to Love a status that is paramount and central to God’s entire Being. Thinking logically, what does this say about the quality of Love? Without totally overstating our case, it says a lot.

Now, let us dispense with the modern inversion of this statement, “Love is God”; for this is not what the Scripture says. It is not the same thing at all. Sometimes, it is tempting, perhaps, to make this inversion, the seemingly logical statement that goes something like this:”Since God is Love, then it must follow that Love is God.” Perhaps one way to defeat this line of thought is simply to say: “Since God made everything, everything must be God.” Aside from being patently illogical, it is also contrary to the Christian concept of God. Unlike Budhism, or even Zen, where there is no real, objective knowledge of God, aside from an amorphous sense of the One in all things, our God is a clearly identifiable Being with attributes and characteristics. In fact, He has clearly identified Himself as a Being existing in three Persons. He is wholly other from his Creation, yet he is near to it because of his quality of transcendence. That is, because of the Holy Ghost, He is ever near us. St. John tells us that if a man love God and confess Him, He will “dwell” with that person and that person will dwell with Him. This is about as close as it gets.

One commentator has suggested that if Love is God, then love would be our chief goal, not God. It would be our chief aim and center of all our efforts. How woeful is our execution of that goal in this world if this be the case! The behavior of mankind belies this thought. Rather than believing love is God, it is similar to our view of Him vis-à-vis His Creation. God is not his Creation, but yet he made it. In a similar vein, Love is not God, but yet God is the source of all love. He is the font, the ever-flowing source of pure love in all its forms.

Earlier, we asked if this love is real or nebulous. That is, is the love of God a real, material thing or just a wonderful emotion upon which to reflect? St. John goes from the ethereal and abstract to the real and material to answer this question. He tells us, 1 John 4:14 “And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” This is real, it is demonstrable, and it is concrete. God did not just wish the World a good day, or think fond, loving thoughts about it, but instead He sent his only-begotten, most beloved Son to save it! Also, we know that this salvation did not come without a price, for in the mysterious, yet infinite justice of God, only a spotless, perfect Sacrifice would suffice for this purpose. This Sacrifice was real; it was painful, bloody and tortuous. Here is the love of God made real, in that He actually did this, a concrete act. St. John says: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.”

In an added note of emphasis, John puts a sharper point on the reality of God’s love by noting that His love was not solicited by Man. Instead, John notes, “We love him, because he first loved us.” Thus, God is the source of love, He is the performer of it, and He will be our destination in love forever.
God’s love for us takes on another wonderful aspect as we read, “Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.”

What is the source of our boldness? How can we be bold when the rest of the world will tremble with fear on that awful, final Day of Judgment? Simply this: 1 John 4:18 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.” This boldness, this perfection in love is in direct contrast to the fearful, quivering Adam from Genesis 3, cowering in the bushes, hiding from God. When we are perfected in the love of God, we will be confident in God’s Love. This confidence will be made manifest on the Last Day.

Thus, the end and sum of this lesson is that the love of God has the quality of permanence. It has the quality of absolute certainty. We can totally rely on it and we can even be bold in it.
Thus, we will approach the Throne of Judgment not with shame, but with confidence. Not with fear, but love and acceptance, not ill will, but joy. Not isolation, but eternal fellowship with God. This is what God wills for us. Through God’s perfect and all-loving Will, we will live in the heavenly Garden with Him, but this time without sin, without fear and without shame.

1Jo 4:10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.



Amen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gays in the Military, again...

Whoo boy. Here we go again, except this time it looks like a done deal. The House, according to Ben Smith, has approved the appeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell", and it looks as if the Senate AND the JCS will roll over and do the same.

Wait, wait, wait. Aren't the reasons the same as last time for not having gays in the military openly? Aren't the same reasons about morale and scorn from our enemies, especially the jihadists, still the same? What has changed?

Simple. With a vehemently 1970's classical liberal like B.O. in the White House, and a huge liberal majority in Congress, the gay-lesbian lobby will have its way. They will have approval of their aberrant lifestyle rammed down our throats, whether we like it not. "Open wide for Chunky", as the old ad used to say... So much for liberal tolerance.

The only things liberals tolerate when they are in power is their view. Free discussion and disagreement is discouraged, or shouted down. Nothing is so intolerant as a liberal in power. 1917 and the Bolshevik Revolution should have taught us that. Mao taught us that. All of the left-wing movements that have been successful in transforming themselves into socialist governments have been intolerant of dissent. Hmmm.... that's interesting.

How much damage can this policy do? Very much, I'm afraid. Aside from the recruiting angle, which may be be hurt, as "straight" guys don't want to shower with homosexuals, our enemies, especially the Jihadists, will be further emboldened and will pour more scorn upon us. They will use this as further evidence of the moral depravity of the West. This will, no doubt, aid them in their efforts to find other disaffected, unemployed young men to blow themselves up for Allah. I always find it interesting that none of those middle-aged Jihadist leaders want to die for Allah...

How many times must we learn the same lesson? History is instructive. It will teach us, if we will allow it. Repression and totalitarianism must be resisted on every front, or we will be enslaved.

Weakening our military is a good place to start. When we begin tinkering with our most solid institution, the U.S, Military, our decline is sure. Has anyone noted the U.S.' parallels with ancient Rome? Our political system is corrupt, our religious base in becoming more and more diluted, and we look to the military as a source of stability. It was the same for Rome and look what happened to them.

Wow, that's scary. Pray for this country...


-Fr. Stephen

Friday, April 2, 2010

Alleuia and Joy!!

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010
Alleuia and Hope!
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be alway acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Alleluia! The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

This ancient Easter greeting reminds us why we are Christians. Today is the penultimate feast of the Christian year. It is the most marvelous, most stupendous and most glorious day for the entire Christian year. The Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the feast of feasts, the day of days for us. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, sin and the grave. It is the most marvelous event because today we celebrate freedom from the greatest fear of man, the fear of non-being, the fear of death, the fear of the unknown. Very simply, the Easter message is this: as Christ is victor over the grave, so are we victorious over fear, over uncertainty, and over doubt, for we Christians know where we are going with courage, with sureness and with faith.

We want you to be excited about that. While we Anglicans are not known for the “excitement factor” in our services, I, for one, am glad of that. Here’s why. Earthly excitement is transitory and instantaneous. It tends to leave one wanting more and better, more and higher. It is illusory. On the other hand, the excitement one feels in one’s soul over the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is durable, peaceful, and satisfying.
Actually, the use of the word “excitement” in connection to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is in faulty. Excitement means the arousal of a emotional response, a momentary flaring up of the emotions.
While we admit that we are excited by Easter, that we definitely feel a “lift” in our inner selves, we will submit that is due to a elevation of the spirit, not just of an excitation of the emotions.

Yes, there is no doubt about it. We pray that all of us regard Easter as a special day and that our spirits and souls are elated with buoyant joy. Note however, that I use the word “joy” not necessarily “excitement.” Something deep down in my being tells me today that all is well with my soul. It is a quiet, yet vibrant realization that, despite all the various vicissitudes of life, all is well. Furthermore, it is well, today and tomorrow. It is well forever.

That’s why we want you to get excited about this Easter Season. Not in a hand-waving, “happy-clappy” sort of way, but rather in a solid, wonderful knowledge of our salvation. We can be this way because we actually share in Christ’s Resurrection over death, fear, and the grave.

How can we have such a bold assertion? How can we affirm confidently that we share in the most momentous event of all time, Christ’s resurrection? Consider the following texts from the Word of God that clearly delineate this love and our eternal destination:

KJG John 11:25: “Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:”

KJG John 14:2: “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, 1, I would have told you. I go to 2 prepare a place for you.”

KJG John 3:16 : “ For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth 2 in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

KJG Matthew 20:28: “Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Let these verses resonate in your soul.

On Maundy Thursday, our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist, where we both remember and our Lord’s death and are fed sacramentally with Him each time we participate in the Eucharist. On Good Friday, Our Lord offered himself as the “one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice” for us. On Holy Saturday, our Lord’s body rested in the sepulcher. Today, Easter, our Lord rose from the dead and opened unto us the gates of larger life.

Today we celebrate our victory with Christ. St. Paul tells us that those of us who have been baptized into his death also share in His resurrection. Today is that day. As Jesus told his disciples on Maundy t: “KJG John 16:20 Verily, verily, I say unto you, That ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Today is that day. Today is the day that we have joy like no other, for we know that our Lord liveth and maketh intercession for us.

In the glorious words of Job, chapter 19: “25 For I know that my 1 redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: 26 And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet 1 in my flesh shall I see God.” In the notes to the Geneva Bible, it states: “In this Job declares plainly that he had a full hope, that both the soul and body would enjoy the presence of God in the last resurrection.”

We as Christians know this to be true. As Christ is, so shall we be. Christ, coming to take our manhood upon Him, tasted death for every man, so that we would not have to experience the chilling isolation He experienced on the Cross. Christ, our Captain of salvation, did this for us. Today, we celebrate that fact.
Our Gospel tells us of this fact. Early in the morning, Mary Magdalene came to the sepulcher, perhaps to mourn for Christ, or as other Gospel accounts say, to anoint the body of Christ. Expecting to find the tomb sealed, she finds it open. Immediately, she thinks that Christ has been removed and runs to tell the other disciples. Peter and John, “the other disciple”, run to the tomb. John, being a teenager, outruns the middle-aged Peter. He comes to the tomb, sees the linen grave wrappings, but does not go in. He hesitates. When Peter arrives, bold, strong, brash Peter, he rushes into the tomb. He sees the clothes and amazingly, the head napkin, neatly wrapped and lying by itself.
This is not a scene of confusion, as if some grave robber stole the body. It is a purposeful, designed situation where our Lord arose from the dead, neatly wrapped the cloth that was around His head, and went out.

This passage of Scripture is so instructive, as is all of Holy Writ. It illustrates two approached to the Christian faith, one symbolized by John, the other by Peter. Some people, like John, come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ gradually. They, in effect, look in the tomb to see if they should go in. Eventually, through preaching or fellowship, or the example of others, they make the commitment to believe in Jesus Christ. John, hesitated, then, seeing the example of Peter, came in and believed. Their faith grows over time, being nurtured by the Church and sacrament.

Others, like Peter, burst in to the faith. They are impetuous, or spiritually needy, that they receive an explosion of grace into their lives, taking it greedily with both hands. This is OK too.

The point is, however one comes to the faith of Jesus Christ, it is vital that we all see the empty tomb and believe. This is the fundamental, bedrock truth of Christianity: we have a Lord who came for us, lived with us, died for us, and rose again to new and everlasting life. As he is, so shall we be.

Yet, some Christians look in the tomb, looking for a dead Jesus. That is, they look in the tomb to see if their faith is alive. For some, the answer is mixed. St. Paul talks of this in 1 Cor. 15, where he speaks of those who doubted the resurrection: “13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up -- if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.”

If this were the end of the story, we would have to agree. We would be he most pitiful of people. But, the Apostle continues: “20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.” This is the truth of this Easter. This is what we celebrate today. This is our faith, our hope, and our joy. Alleuia and alleluia! He is Risen!

John 20:8 “Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.”

Monday, March 29, 2010

"Let this mind be in you..."

Palm Sunday 2010
“Let this mind be in you…”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Palm Sunday, March 28, 2010

We hope and pray that this Lent, your Lent, has been productive and rewarding. I pray that it has yielded some spiritual fruit that will be a blessing for you from here on. After all, this is what Lent is really all about, preparing your soul for the upcoming Paschal joy. We sincerely hope that this Lent has been meaningful, worthwhile and joyful. If the Lord has blessed you in any of these ways this Lent, all is good.

Now, we are on the threshold of another church season. Without, we pray, overstating the obvious, it is the season that defines Christianity, We are now preparing, in earnest, for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are getting ready for the spiritually rich and blessed season of Easter. While it is materially poor when compared with Christmas, it is the more blessed of the seasons simply because it is the raison d’etre for Christianity, its very reason to be.

Yet, we are not here to preach an Easter sermon. Not yet. It is not time. While we “strain in the harness”, so to speak, as we press forward towards the blessed hope of our resurrection in Christ, it is not yet time. Today, we deal with the whole nasty business of the mock trial of Christ, his betrayal into the hands of sinful, expedient men, and the subsequent torture-death so mercilessly applied to our Lord and Savior. We read about the “prisoner swap” of Barabbas for Jesus, the just for the unjust, and we daresay, feel the burning injustice of it all. Perhaps we can, almost, feel our throats burn with hoarseness from shouting, as we fancy ourselves part of the faithful crowd that cried out for Jesus’ release. This was, of course, to no avail as Pontius Pilate, being the career politician that he was, saw rather “a tumult was made” and delivered Christ to be crucified. As a salve to his own conscience, he washed his hands before the crowd, as he sought, pathetically, Jesus’ release. The crowd would have none of it, but being lashed into a frenzy by the Scribes and Pharisees, they bellowed for Jesus’ death.

We know the rest of the story. Christ, who had been scourged with the heartless Roman whips, whose ends were laden with sharp metal, was virtually on the point of walking unconsciousness. Recall that the Romans had so calculated the amount of flogging a man could take without passing out that they delivered exactly one stroke less than the amount needed to send him into blissful oblivion, Instead, they wanted it to hurt and to hurt badly.

Now, Christ was led to the Praetorium to undergo further degradation. He was arrayed in a gorgeous royal robe and mocked by the band of brutal Roman soldiers. These were career soldiers who had signed up for a single thirty-year hitch in the Legions, after which they would be pensioned off with land and money. God only knows what campaigns and horrors they had seen. Warfare in any age is always bloody, cruel and savage. So, what if they had some fun with this preacher? Who cared? Who was this guy anyway? King of the Jews! Ha! We’ll show him! This was their attitude.

Then, a mock pageant of adoration began, as the soldiers in turn both mocked Christ and pummeled Him. Before all this however, the King needed a crown. In a sadistic turn of satanic ingenuity, the soldiers platted a crown of long, sharp Palestinian thorns for Jesus. This crown they bestowed on Him, not gently laying it on His head, as for a king, but forcing it down with brute force, as for a usurper of kingly glory. Imagine how the blood flowed! Those of us who have had even a minor scalp wound know. Now not only from his torn and tattered back, lashed with 39 stripes, but now from His head as well flowed the precious liquid. Ah, Sacred Head, sore wounded!
Although Matthew’s Gospel does not tell of it, from historic devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, we believe that Christ fell three times on his way to the cross. Weak from loss of blood, fasting and thirsty, he simply couldn’t bear the weight of it. Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear his cross for Him.

So now, we come to the Cross. Christ is stripped before the gaze of the rude crowd; Rough hands drive spikes into his hands or wrists and then his feet. He is elevated on the cross and there he hung in speechless agony. Countless muscle cramps afflicted him and each agonizing breath required him to press upward on his wounded feet in order to obtain air. In every way, this barbarous execution method was an amazing odyssey of pain.

He did this for all of us, for you. It was his hard joy so to do. This brings us to the topic of St. Paul’s Epistle selection for the day from Ephesians 2. Christ humbled himself, taking on the form of a bond servant (in the Greek doulos – a slave) and was made like unto us, by sharing in our human nature. Stated like this, Christ’s uniqueness is understated. Christ did not only share in our human nature, He took Humanity into His Divinity. Speaking to an ancient heresy, the human did not become divine, but rather the divine took on humanity. Yet, how glorious is this humility! Christ deigned to lay aside his divine power in this respect: he allowed himself to taste death, real human death for all of us on the cross. While some translations say that He “emptied” himself as He did this, in no way did He become any less divine in so doing. The Greek word for this is keno,w,, “to empty.” One heresy, called the “kenotic Christ”, said that Christ laid aside his divinity completely during the Passion and was merely human. Later, this heresy claimed, Christ reassumed His Divinity to rise from the dead. While it is not our purpose today to discuss or even refute this heresy at length, suffice it to say that it is totally erroneous and even does violence to the dual-nature doctrine of Christ.
One of the mysterious and glorious aspects of the Crucifixion is that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, did consent to suffer and die upon the Cross for us. If Christ were not God, He could not take on the sins on mankind on the Cross. If He were not fully Man, the sacrifice would not have been efficacious.

We orthodox Anglicans do not debate either point. We know that Jesus Christ, perfect Man and Perfect God, suffered and died on the Cross for us. We do not fully understand, nor are we able to comprehend the profundity and enormity of the Holy Sacrifice. Yet, we take God at His Word and accept it.

We accept it and give endless thanks and praise. We accept it, humbly, and acknowledge our own filthiness and unworthiness before His spotless Majesty.
We fall before His Cross, speechless and prostrate before this justification, empowered by Love.

” Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name” Christ’s glory is such that all living things should reverence and worship Him, to the exclusion of all else. That is, to Christ belong all glory, laud, and honor, just as our processional hymn proclaimed. All things in Heaven and Earth should bow at His mention and do him reverence. This is why many of us in the clergy and the devout laity slightly bow our heads at the name of Christ. This is not mere affectation; it is giving honor and glory to Him who is most deserving.

There will come a day when all eyes shall see Him, as he returns, with glory, to take Creation as His Bride. Much of mankind, the godless and the faithless, will look up and “mourn” as they behold Christ’s glory in the skies. They will see their world coming to an end and real, eternal judgment about to proceed upon them.
On the other hand, the faithful and the godly, who look for Christ’s appearing with great anticipation, will look up and give thanks. Fearful it will be, yet the faithful will look up and say, “My Lord and my God.”

This is what Palm Sunday is all about. We recognize the price paid for us. We recognize that Christ hung there for us. We recognize, in silent adoration, that Christ’s love for us is the reason He did it.

Let us begin Holy Week with this in mind. As we have borne with it in Lent, for one more week we will bear our own iniquity. While never able to justify ourselves, we can at least say: Christ did this for me.

Philippians 2:9-11 “ that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN