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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.