Follow by Email

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Foreshadowing and Fellowship

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
The Fourth Sunday after Easter
May 2, 201

“Foreshadowing and Favor…”
John 16:7 “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.”

Allow me to have you consider one thought for today: foreshadowing. Foreshadowing, as you know from your English Literature classes, is to : “to represent, indicate, or typify beforehand : PREFIGURE.”

This is the major insight available to us today from the Word of God, taken from the Gospel of St. John, chapter 16. Jesus is discoursing on one the second greatest events soon to come to pass in the history of mankind. He is, in fact, foreshadowing its occurrence. What is this great happening, soon to burst upon the scene?

To answer that question, let us recall Christ’s words:”for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.” Some translations term this as “Helper”, rather than Comforter, but the meaning and intent is the same: Someone is coming who will help with our faith, our belief and our lives.

Once again, who is this Person? He is the One whom later Church doctors and theologians would call the Third Person of the Holy Trinity. He is the One for whom Christ would say: “John 16:13 But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”

What this passage clearly shows us is the permanence of Emmanuel, God with us. God was not satisfied merely to come for a brief thirty-three years, accomplish Man’s salvation on the Cross, and then leave. No instead, God the Father willed, God the Son accomplished and God the Holy Spirit facilitated.
Said again, God was not content to come, save, and return to Glory. Rather than do this, He was true to His Word when He said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Christ, in that glorious mystery that is the Holy Trinity, is with us always in the personhood of the Holy Ghost.

This has marvelous implications. As we spoke of last week, we are not alone in a cold, unresponsive universe, ruled only by the inflexible laws of Physics. Yes, these realities exist, as any NASA scientist will tell you. Being almost fatuous, no one can survive in space without the proper protection. Yet, behind that emptiness, that seeming void is Somebody. Not Something, but Somebody: eternal, loving, and giving.

At the moment, however, we are concerned with life on Earth and our relationship with God, here and now. That is why Christ’s foreshadowing of the coming of the Holy Ghost has such power, such promise, and such comfort.

Let us touch on comfort first. The first fact is the Christ’s own name for the Holy Spirit, Comforter, is so important. The Spirit’s first ministry to the Apostles was simply to comfort and sustain them after Christ’s sudden departure from Earth. They had just lost their Lord and Master. As we see at the end of the Gospel of John, Peter even returned to his old occupation, fishing, briefly and was joined by several other disciples: Nathaniel, Thomas, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and two other unnamed disciples. Apparently, this was fruitless, for we read in John 21 “that night they caught nothing”. Then Christ Himself appeared to them and commanded them to cast their net over the right side of the boat, whereupon they received a huge catch of fish. The symbolism couldn’t be plainer. When the disciples follow Jesus’ instructions, they receive the catch that they are supposed to have. As we know, this catch didn’t involve fishes any more, but the souls of men. Christ then ate and had fellowship with them. Also, He encouraged Peter to continue his ministry when He said, “Peter, do you love me?” When Peter answered him affirmatively, Christ said, “Feed my sheep.” Christ continued this conversation, asking him a total of three times to tend to the flock of God.

Thus, if it took the appearance of Christ Himself immediately after the Passion and Resurrection to maintain the people closest to Christ in the Way, what would it take to sustain the Church of God until Christ’s return? Simply, it would take the presence of God Himself, not in bodily form, but in the mysterious, spiritual form of the Holy Ghost.

Thus, other translations than the AV (KJV)) call the Holy Ghost the Helper. In the Greek, the word is “parakletos” {par-ak'-lay-tos}, which means the following: “1) summoned, called to one's side, esp. called to one's aid 1a) one who pleads another's cause before a judge, a pleader, counsel for defense, legal assistant, an advocate.” It is clear that we need a Helper to keep us on the Way, too. Thankfully, it is just this helper to which Jesus points in this passage.

This Helper, this Advocate, this “one called to our side” will do at least three things, according to Christ. He will reprove the world of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment. First, He will convict of sin, because the World, outside of the Church, has rejected Christ. Next, the Holy Spirit will point out the righteousness of Christ as he returns to the Father. Only Christ, the Righteous One can truly ascend to the Father in such a way. Finally, the Holy Spirit will reprove the World of Judgment, since Satan has already been judged and condemned. The consummation of his judgment has not yet taken place, since it is not the Father’s pleasure to do so at this time. Yet, we know that it will occur on the Last Day, when the powers of Hell that have so plagued mankind will be cast down forever and the true Glory of God’s Creation will be revealed, free of sin.

Christ also foreshadows the final function of the Holy Spirit in this passage as He tells us that when He comes, the Spirit will not testify of Himself, but of the Father and the Son. Whatever he hears, he will speak it to the Church. The Holy Spirit will show the Church of coming things, most of them contained in the Spirit-inspired Word of God. That is, as we see events unfolding in the World around us; we are able to relate them to the various prophecies and statements contained in Scripture. For example, the current cultic prediction that the world would end yesterday is a direct violation of what Christ told us in Matthew 24:36: “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” When we listen to the Word of God, allowing our souls to be illuminated by it through the power of the Holy Ghost, we have the truth at hand.

Continuing, Christ says,”He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you”

In the end, this foreshadows the greatest of all the Holy Spirit’s tasks: to glorify the Father and the Son. He will take of the Glory of Christ and show it unto the Church. He will bear witness to Christ’s statement that “All things that the Father hath are mine.” In short, he affirms and bears witness to the Unity of the Godhead. Christ and His Father are one. What the Father has, the Son has, all attested to by the Holy Spirit. The mention of all three Persons of the Holy Trinity here in this passage simply affirms what Christ said the Spirit will do: speak not of Himself, but of the Hoy Person of God.

Beloved, as we look forward to the next two major events in the Church year, Ascension and Pentecost, followed immediately by the third, Trinity Sunday, let us too glorify God in our hearts and souls. Christ is foreshadowing one of the great events in History, the coming of the Holy Ghost.
This is topped only by His coming to us.

Let us glorify God that we are not alone, ever, unless we want to be. True, we can be alone in human terms when we are solitary. Yet, in our hearts, we are never solitary if we have invited the Holy Spirit to make His abode there with us. If we invite Him, Christ said that He and His Father would come with us, live with us, and never leave us. Unless we willfully reject the Holy Ghost, either by outward word or continued sinful behavior, God will never leave us. Praise be to God! Jesus told us. He foreshadowed our glorious fellowship with God.

John 16:7 7 "But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper shall not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you”

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


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Comfort ye, my People

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Easter II, 2011
May 8th, 2011
Good Shepherd Sunday

“Comfort ye my people…”

Isaiah 40:1-2: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. 2 Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of the LORD'S hand double for all her sins.”

Comfort. What a wonderful word. What a warm, soft, beautiful word in all that it conveys. I picture, personally, a snowy day in Illinois outside, with a warm fire, a soft blanket and a cup of delicious coffee at hand inside. On the other hand, here in Texas, I picture comfort as a nice cool bedroom at night, with the air conditioning going when it is hot and sultry outside.

Yet, comfort may be an unappreciated word, sometimes in our all-too-comfortable society. We really don’t tolerate discomfort very well, which is both a glory of our modern society as well as its curse. Perhaps we really are too comfortable. Goodness knows that most modern Americans will tolerate nothing else. Let me also issue a disclaimer for any perceived negativity here, however. The very fact that we Americans have such manifold comfort available to us is a great blessing from Almighty God and one for which we should be very thankful. Without issuing platitudes from the pulpit, we should keep in mind and pray for those who live without daily comfort.

Isaiah, the mighty prophet of the coming Messiah, speaks to the people of Israel, the Northern Kingdom, who after many years of repeated warnings have been conquered by the Assyrians and carried away captive. Some commentators tell us that this particular passage occurs during the first exile in Babylon. In their misery of exile, Isaiah speaks “comfort” to them, telling them that they have received double recompense at the Lord’s Hand for all their sins.

Recall that the majority of Isaiah’s ministry dealt with the apostasy of Israel. Consider these lines from the very first verses of his prophecy, Isaiah 1:3-4: “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib: but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider. 4 Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward.”

As he continues verse after verse and chapter after chapter, Isaiah rightly complains of the idol worship, the lax morals, and the corrupt lifestyle of the Israelites. They were corrupt, idolatrous and immoral. Finally, when God saw there was to be no repentance, judgment in the form of foreign invasion and enslavement occurred. The punishment was so severe that even Isaiah comments that they received “double” punishment for their sins. Wesley terms it as this: “Double — Not twice as much as her sins deserved, but abundantly enough to answer God's design in this chastisement, which was to humble and reform them, and to warn others by their example.”

Yet now, according to the prophecy, Israel was to receive comfort from her vexations and punishments. She was to be assured that her “warfare”, her tribulation in the world, was completed or accomplished and that her iniquity was forgiven. The Hebrew word “ratsah” actually means to be favorably disposed towards or kindly to. If one could perceive God’s “mood” so to speak, it may be one of kindliness or good favor. Even though God’s wrath had been kindled towards His People, their punishment has expiated this.

As an aside, we know that God in all His fullness does not experience “wrath” or emotions like it. Our God is completely and eternally serene in every aspect, not like the Greek and Roman gods that acted merely like overgrown humans (even children) in their hatreds, loves, jealousies, and foibles. No, our God the Holy Trinity simply IS, for all eternity.

How then, does God visit retribution on His People, seeing that He Himself is beyond emotion and thus beyond the feelings of anger, jealousy, and rage? How can we even say, “the Wrath of God?” While that topic is beyond the scope of this brief address, suffice it to say that God’s absolute Holiness and absolute justice demand that some recompense occurs to atone for sins against Him. Yet, being the font of eternal love, God Himself paid the price for these offenses.

This is exactly what Isaiah speaks about when he tells us that a Voice is crying:”The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain:” This voice is God, telling us to prepare the way for His Son. In language used later by John the Baptizer, it is a voice crying in the wilderness. One cannot but help to hear the stirring tenor notes of Handel’s aria as one reads these lines. His monumental “Messiah” sets the powerful words of Isaiah into even more powerful musical communication that magnifies and even transcends our ability to hear the written word alone. In this case, we are moved to prepare our inner beings as dwelling places for the Holy Spirit.

Typical with Isaiah is his ability to project his prophetic voice both near and far. By that, we mean that he speaks both to the near-term easing of Israel’s distress, which, although some years off, would eventually happen, and to the long-term prophecy of the coming Christ. We see both in this passage as the people receive a comfortable word in the present, while at the same time Isaiah speaks movingly of the Christ to come. Although the presence of man fades, for we are but grass, the word of God lasts forever. Thus, we clamber into the mountains and proclaim to the world, “Behold your God!” He will come with a strong hand and a strong arm to do his work.

What work will this be? It is pastoral, natural and beautiful: He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

At once we are propelled into the Gospel era as St. John relates how Christ said, 11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” In fulfillment of the words of Isaiah, Christ proclaims Himself to be what he is, the Bishop and Captain of our souls.

Note, please, what the Voice was crying in the wilderness: Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who gives his life for the sheep. Not as a hired worker, who sees the danger and flees, but rather as a courageous shepherd who knows his sheep and is known by them. Interestingly, although sheep are easily led, they do not follow just anybody. They know their shepherd’s voice and follow only him. Conversely, the shepherd knows his sheep and does everything he can for their welfare, up to and including giving his own life to protect them.

Thus, to quote the old gospel hymn, “What a friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!” What a Friend indeed.

There is only One who will save you from an uncertain eternal afterlife: Jesus. There is only One who saves your soul from the piercing, totally accurate justice of God and replaces it with mercy: Jesus. There is only one Good Shepherd who is able to fill your soul with the holy love and grace it so desperately wants: Jesus.

Jesus reaffirms his relationship with God the Father as He tells us that in the way that His sheep know Him, He is known of the Father. This is a special relationship made perfect by perfect love in the community of the Holy Trinity.

In one last affirmation of hope and unity, Christ tells us that he has other sheep that must join his flock. Although not of this fold, they too must and will be brought along with Christ
This is most glorious, for it foretells the wonderful day when all Christian divisions will cease “and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.”

With our limited human vision, we can’t see any way that the gaping divisions in the Church can be healed. Denominations tend to divide; once divided, they tend to keep dividing. Some of the reasons for our divisions are valid, others occur for less-than-ultimate issues. Yet, in the mystery and glory of God’s perfect vision, there will occur a day when all Christians will worship the Holy Trinity in one church. What a glorious day that will be! Imagine a church where unity of vision and unity of purpose is the focus, rather than the disagreements that divide us. It will be a miracle indeed. It will be one that only the Good Shepherd can bring about.

One last question remains to be asked: are you under the care of the Good Shepherd?
Have you entrusted your life, both here and forever, into the Hands of the One who can see it safely to eternal pasture? If there is any area of your soul where some “hold back” occurs, or where you are less than enthusiastic about the Good Shepherd’s directions? If so, let it go. Let it go and experience both the freedom from self and the wonderful peace of being in God. Let it go and allow the Good Shepherd to provide eternal pasture for your needy soul.

After all, this is what Good Shepherd Sunday is all about. It is about giving your soul what it so desperately needs, the sacred pasture of Christ.

To conclude, let us consider these brief lines:
Psalm 23. Dominus regit me.

THE Lord is my shepherd; * therefore can I lack nothing.
2 He shall feed me in a green pasture, * and lead me
forth beside the waters of comfort.
3 He shall convert my soul, * and bring me forth in the
paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of death, I will fear no evil; * for thou art with me; thy
rod and thy staff comfort me.
5 Thou shalt prepare a table before me in the presence
of them that trouble me; * thou hast anointed my head
with oil, and my cup shall be full.
6 Surely thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life; * and I will dwell in the house of
the Lord for ever.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.


Thursday, May 5, 2011

Victory and Faith

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Easter I, 2011
May 1st, 2011

Victory and Faith

“This is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith...” I John 5:4

Does the word “victory” bother you? Does it offend you? In our modern, or as it is often termed, “postmodern” world, it does seem to bother some people. In fact, “victory” is a term that we don’t hear very often. On the other hand, we do hear things like “negotiated settlement”, or “phased-in withdrawal”, or “limited engagement”, but not the word “victory” very often.

Why is that? No doubt there are a host of reasons, some of them stemming from a wide variety of motives. Yet, we would submit to you that one chief reason for mistrust in the quest for victory may be doubt in the righteousness of one’s motives, or if you will, a lack of confidence that one is right. If one doesn’t truly believe that one’s cause it just, how can one be fully committed to achieving victory? For example, in my own life, I first noticed the seeds of “hate America first” sprouting in academia during my junior high and high school years in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. A great deal of this, no doubt, sprang from the protest movement over our involvement in Vietnam. We are not here to debate or even discuss that, however, from a political or even geo-political standpoint. That is not our purpose. Rather, we are here to discuss victory in terms of the Christian life, and most ultimately, our afterlife.

Returning to our original premise, we will submit to you that dedication to victory requires absolute sureness in the correctness of one’s position. Here lies the rub. One reason why so many people may be uncomfortable with the concept of victory has to do with the perception of their own purity, or lack thereof. Putting it even stronger, it has to do with their relationship with evil. Not that they are necessarily evil, or rotten to the core, it is just that in our modern world so many of us have some ambivalence towards evil and sin. Once again, it is not that we would countenance absolute evil or gross misbehavior, but rather that our current world situation is so imbued with sin that contagion from it is very difficult or even impossible to some extent. For example, I am sure that those of us who are subscribers to cable or satellite television have noticed the increasing coarseness of the language, all in the interests of “artistic realism.” Thus, if we aware that we are tainted in some respect how can our motives towards victory be pure? If we possess even a touch of self-loathing, which may be the malady of our modern society, we will doubt our worthiness to achieve victory.

Our Epistle for the day from the first letter of John clearly dispels any doubt about the rightness of our victory, for one key reason: our source. That is, rather than experiencing the lackluster approval our own spirits give us, we have something better. Said again, rather than rejoicing in our own deceptive or even delusional self concept and feelings of self-worth, we have a renaissance of something real, eternal, and perfect. Simply said, we who are Christians are no longer of the world in the same sense as others who have not tasted the sweetness of Christ. We are born of God and thus this statement: (1 John 5:4) “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.” Said one more time: we who are baptized, worshipping, committed Christians are in the world, but not of it because we trace our spiritual genealogy to Christ Himself.

Considering this, how did Christ come and how can we believe His report? To answer this, we must back up just a bit and explore some of John’s motives for writing this epistle. It is obvious that he is seeking to bolster the faith of the early church, but there was another, more sinister reason that sprang up, namely a group called the Docetists. This group taught that Jesus was not really a man, but merely seemed to be so. Another group taught that Christ wasn’t God, but was only a man. One of their reasons for thinking this was abhorrence to the idea that God could die. Since God couldn’t die, Jesus couldn’t be God. Rather they had an idea that “the Christ” came upon Jesus during His lifetime, but suddenly left Him when he expired on the Cross.

John refutes these positions by telling us that Christ came in this fashion: (1 John 5:6) “This is he that came by water and blood, even Jesus Christ; not by water only, but by water and blood.” Examining this statement closer, we see that Christ did not come by water only, that is, by baptism, whereby the spirit of “the Christ” came on Jesus, but water and blood. Yes, Jesus began his ministry when the Holy Spirit alighted upon him at Jordan, ostensibly after His baptism. He finished his work on the Cross, where His holy Blood was shed for us. We orthodox Christians know that Christ did not need baptism to receive the Spirit, but evidently some early heretics did.
Recall that Jesus “suffered” John to baptize Him in order to “fulfill all righteousness.” His baptism was meant as a sign for us and showed that Jesus fulfilled, but did not destroy the Law.

Thus, John the writer of this epistle seeks to tie the water and the blood together to proclaim the unity of Christ. The water and the blood agree on earth, while the Holy Spirit bears witness to the truth of Christ. In a wonderful use of parallel witness, John also tells us there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word (Christ) and the Spirit. These three are one and they agree. Thus, we have the Trinity in heaven: Father, Word, and Spirit agreeing to the truth of Christ. We also have the earthly trinity, the Spirit, the blood, and the water agreeing also. According to the Old Testament Law, in the mouth of two or three witnesses, something was confirmed; so it is with Christ. Both trinities on earth and in Heaven agree on the truth of Christ as both God and man. This is wonderful proof text for the Holy Trinity. In the words of John, it couldn’t be clearer that Christ is not only man but God as well.

Let me ask you: is there such a thing as the sin of unbelief? That is, is it actually a sin not to believe in Jesus as the Son of God? This is an interesting question, but it is one that John can answer with an unequivocal “yes.” Why? Simply because he states that while the witness of man is important, the witness of God is greater. God has witnessed to the truth of His Son through his miraculous birth, his sinless life, his ministry, his passion, and greatest of all, his resurrection. Besides all this, the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Son, and his witness is true.

Continuing with this thought, those of us who accept the truth of Christ and believe in him receive a witness in ourselves. We simply know through faith that He is true. On the other hand, those who reject God make Him a liar, because they reject the witness God has given us of His Son. It certainly seems to me that those who do this are sinning because not only do they reject the Truth, but they call the Truth a lie by their actions of unbelief.

Simply, John tells us the record that God the Father has given us of His Son: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Those who have the Son have life, and those who have not the Son have not life. It is at once simple and profound.

Sometimes, we need to accept the truth at face value. We Christians must have faith to believe, and that faith is in a man who was born of God, came among us, taught us, healed us, and ultimately died for us. This too is simple and profound.

In the end, our faith in this God-man enables us to overcome the world. It is a faith that comes not from ourselves, but from the One who gives us all things. He Himself enables us to believe in Him as He draws us to Him. He enables us to love him because He first loved us. He is able to give us unquenchable joy because He is the Source of all joy.

We will, in the end, overcome this fallen world through Christ. Through our faith in the record that God the Father has given of His Son, we have this witness in ourselves. In the end, after all the hoopla and panoply of futility has passed by, we will have something else: a real, durable life in Christ that will not and cannot be overcome.

Do we have victory? 1 John 5:4 “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

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

My Soul Doth Magnify the Lord

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Easter Sunday, 2011
My Soul doth Magnify the Lord
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.

V. Alleluia! The Lord is risen!
R. The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia!

I greet you in the Name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, on this day of days, on this penultimate event of the Christian Year. Today is the feast of the Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is the feast of feasts, the day of days for us. Today we celebrate Christ’s victory over death, sin and the grave. Today we celebrate freedom from the ancient foe of man, death. Today, we celebrate our inheritance as sons and daughters of the Most High God. 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.

This is a bold assertion. Yet, we affirm confidently that we share in Christ’s resurrection. Today, we proclaim to the world at large, “I am a Christian. I am free from the fear of death. I am filled with the love of God. I am an heir of salvation and eternal life.”

How do have the confidence to make such a bold assertion? Not only do we have 2000-plus years of tradition and witness to rely on, but we also have the various eye-witness accounts of the resurrected Christ to read. 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 1 “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.”

On Maundy Thursday, our Lord instituted the Holy Eucharist. In this most blessed Sacrament, we both remember 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 Sunday, our Lord Christ rose from the dead and opened unto us the gates of larger life.

Today we celebrate that victory; 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 Thurday: “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.

Christ’s resurrection is foreshadowed in the O.T. 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 “the other disciple”, John, 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 instructive because it illustrates two approaches 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, or they receive such an explosion of grace that they seek it, almost greedily with both hands.

The point is this: 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, that 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.

Beloved in Christ, which is it for you? Or rather, what do you hope to gain this Easter Season? Are you like those Christians who look in the tomb, looking for a dead Jesus? Are you looking in the tomb to see if your 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.”

In the same way, some people’s Easter is similar. That is, they may have allowed the World with its secular symbols of Easter Bunnies and Spring-time themes to overwhelm the true message. It certainly is a great time to feast with family, revel in the joys of another Spring, and generally appreciate the season. What, however, is the true message? What is the reason for the festivities? How is it some folks can’t even come to church on this day? What is their true focus?

The message is this: Christ has died; Christ has risen; Christ will come again. The glorious Good News continues: we are no longer slaves to sin and death. We are no longer held in thrall to meaninglessness and oblivion; in fact, we are saved from an active eternity separated from God.

It even gets better: we who love Christ are lovingly invited to live with Him, in His Great Mansion, forever, in perfect love and bliss and acceptance. If you have been hungry, you will be filled. If you have been hated, you will be loved. If you have been lonely, you will experience the most fulfilling, perfect fellowship you have ever felt, forever. Finally, if you hunger and thirst to see God, that too will be granted.

The promise of Easter isn’t only about the life hereafter, although that is the most important thing. Yet, be that as it may, if that were all, many people, even believers, might have some trouble accepting a total commitment to the Christian Life. No, life in Christ means a difference, a distinction now, as well as forever, after our earthly life closes. We will celebrate that difference a few weeks hence formally, as we welcome the reality of the Holy Spirit among us.

That is where the difference, the distinction, lies. We, unlike most of the world today, genuinely have hope and power to live a blessed, empowered life in the Holy Trinity. What we mean is this: only in Christ can we experience joy in our life despite our circumstances. Only in Christ can we have the “peace that passeth understanding”, a little extra something that sets us apart from the World. It is that grace that helps us live each day in joy, not despair; love, not hate; and a sense of completeness as opposed to emptiness. It is truly marvelous and truly mysterious

To return to St. Paul’s statement regarding our possible false hope in Christ, he said: “19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” That is, if Christ was not true, we would have a dire situation to deal with.

If this were the end of the story, we would have to agree. We would be he most pitiful of people. It is not so, however. In the most glorious of affirmations, the Apostle continues: “20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21For 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.

John 20:8 “Then entered in therefore the other disciple also, who came first to the tomb, and he saw, and believed.”
Passion Sunday
5th Sunday in Lent 2010
“Love and Perfection…”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Passion Sunday, April 10, 2011

Is there such a thing as an incomplete sacrifice? Is there such a thing as an insufficient sacrifice? What a question! For us a “modern” folk, the whole idea of sacrifice is so alien, so antiquated, and even so downright barbaric as to be almost laughable…
That is, the idea of animal sacrifice is ludicrous to us. The erstwhile Bishop of New Jersey, John Spong, once went so far as to accuse God of being “bloodthirsty.” Of course, in this, and in so many areas of the historic faith, he completely misses the point.

Spong, like so many moderns, simply can’t conceive of the concept of sacrifice. The idea of giving up something truly precious for the good of someone else may have crossed their minds, but we would warrant you that when people of this ilk consider sacrifice, it is usually a sacrifice of their money that they would name. While the giving of money is a good and worthwhile sacrifice in certain circumstances, by itself, money itself is too impersonal and perhaps just too sterile. We can all remember examples, primarily by governmental bodies, where they main solution is to “throw money” at the problem. Sometimes it works, but without a cogent, coherent plan to use the money, it often fails.

Yet, money with the right intent, given in the right spirit, does have a sacrificial element to it. It is, after all, the result of our labor, our frugality, and our thrift. When it is coupled with a giving spirit with the leading of the Holy Spirit, it is blessed indeed. Money, in this regard, is “sent” to do good.
Given like this, money is a great and good sacrifice. After all, all that we have is held in trust, not in permanence.

The writer to the Hebrews in today’s Epistle speaks of another kind of sacrifice. He is referring to the Old Testament sacrificial system where the pious Jew gave a lamb bull, or goat, among other creatures, without blemish, to be killed and burnt before God. He did this for a variety of reasons, including a peace offering, a sin sacrifice, an atonement, or even a thanksgiving. It was an important part of being a devout Jew. As we’ve referred in the past, there were several different kinds of sacrifice, including sin, special atonement, thanksgiving, childbirth and peace. All of these held special significance for different purposes under the Law.

St. Paul focuses on the chief sacrifice of the year, Yom Kippur, when he speaks of the High Priest going into the inner sanctum of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, to offer sacrifice for the people. This was a tremendously solemn and holy observation. It coincided with the driving of away of the goat “for Azazel”, otherwise known as the scapegoat. This was where the “Kohen Gadol “ or High Priest, laid his hands on the goat and confessed over it the sins of the people. It was then driven away, out into the wilderness. Interestingly, in reality, the goat was actually driven off a cliff to prevent its coming back to civilization. Brutal? Perhaps it is, but it shows the cost of sin in a graphic way. We in the modern world, who have so inured to sin, need to remember that sin always incurs a cost. It is obvious that the ancient Jew did.

Notwithstanding the cost of sacrifice, did it really serve to make men better? Or, as St. Paul says, did the Law merely serve as a reminder of how sinful one really was? Indeed, the High Priest offered a sin sacrifice once a year and atoned for the people. Yet, as St. Paul tells us in Hebrews 12, this sacrifice was not efficacious because it had to be repeated once every year.

Of course, the glorious contrast St. Paul offers is that of Christ giving Himself as the one-time, completely sufficient sacrifice. Thus, Christ, using his perfect and sufficient Self, offered the complete and worthy sacrifice God required. Not repeated yearly, as was the sprinkling of bull’s and goat’s blood, this sacrifice was sufficient in of itself, one time.

As well, there is another important issue with the sacrifices under the Law. It has to do with atonement versus remission.
Consider these definitions of atonement:
1. Making of amends: the making of reparation for a sin or a mistake
2. Reconciliation between God and people: in Christian belief, the reconciliation between God and people brought about by the death of Jesus Christ

It would seem as if atonement by this definition is certainly a great thing. No doubt it is, because it is primarily concerned with the restoration of relationship between God and Man. Thus, if the Temple sacrifices offered atonement, or the “making good” Man’s relationship with God, it was excellent and much to be desired. Yet, it would seem, the Temple sacrifices lacked something, or else there was something incomplete about them.

St. Paul tells us what that is. It was the quality of remission, which seems to go beyond even the wide boundaries of atonement. For example, consider these definitions of “remission”:

1. the cancellation of a debt, charge, or penalty
2. A diminution of the seriousness or intensity of disease or pain; a temporary recovery
3. Forgiveness of sins
4. the reduction of a prison sentence, esp. as a reward for good behavior.

When one looks at the Sacrifice of Christ in this light, the completeness of it makes more sense. First, while there is no doubt that Christ offered atonement for us, thus repairing our relationship with Almighty God, he did more.

As the definitions states, he cancelled the charge, or debt that our sins incurred. That is, the penalty of our sins, eternal separation from God, He wiped away. We know that separation from God is death, because God is all life. Yet, this penalty has more to it than just a passive consideration of death. Since the human soul is eternal, our afterlife will be eternal. Thus, it will either be in the most positive of all circumstances, living actively with God, or it will be the active negation of all those positives. The point is, however, that we will never cease to be, as those who know not God desperately wish it to be. Somehow, an eternity of non-knowing or non-being is something they can stomach. An eternity in Hell they cannot.
Christ remitted our sins so that our eternal after life will be in the most blessed of all circumstances, not the reverse.

In the remission of our sins, Christ also decreased the punishment that we rightly deserve for our sins. He created a “diminution”, or diminishing of the seriousness or intensity of pain that we should have suffered for our sins. How did this happen? Simple; Christ bore the penalty for our sins Himself.

In so doing, he actually created forgiveness of sins as well. This was not just the disregard of God towards our sins, but the actual forgiveness of them. Our sins, through Christ, will God remember no more. It is almost like they never happened; except that we know while sin is forgiven, the consequences of our sin here on Earth remain.

Finally, the fourth part of the definition, Christ actually reduced the time we would have to spend paying for our sins. Our “prison sentence”, instead of being an eternity separated from God, becomes a commuted sentence. One preacher termed it this way, as in a newspaper headline: “Man’s sentence is suspended, goes to live with judge.”

When considered in its totality, the enormity of Christ’s sacrifice becomes a little clearer. St. Paul aptly compares it to the transient and incomplete sacrifices of the Old Testament, while completely emphasizing the permanence and efficacy of what Christ did for us. There simply is no comparison.

Thus, “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us”.

Christ did it. Not we by our acts of righteousness, nor a thousand years in Purgatory can accomplish the same. We are not saved by our own acts. It is not possible to earn our way into Heaven because our crimes are too vast and our nature is too corrupt to be redeemed without the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Without Him, our future is bleak.

With Him, our future is how St. Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 15:53-55 “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. 54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, and then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

There is one reason why this statement will become true for every believer. That simply is because “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ is the one, true, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for our sins. Thanks be to God!

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