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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Faithfulness and Effect

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Sixth Sunday after Trinity, 2011
July 31, 2011
Faithfulness and Effect

2 Timothy 2:11-13 11 It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: 13 If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.

St. Paul is encouraging his “son in the faith” and the first bishop of Ephesus with some wonderful words of encouragement and admonishment in today’s New Testament lesson. Timothy, as we all know, was the Apostle Paul’s protégé and a great young leader of the early Church. Paul evidently spent considerable time coaching, exhorting and guiding him in the ways of effective ministry. Even today, soon-to-be ordered deacons have 1st Timothy 3:8-13 quoted to them by their examiners as instructions in ministry. These are the verses that say things like: “…the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre”; and to be:”Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” Evidently, our bishops find these words as instructive now as they were then.

Today, Paul seems to be reminding Timothy of some bedrock truths of Christianity and their effects on the world, concerning both believers and nonbelievers. For example, he tells him to “consider” what he says, and prays that the Lord give him full understanding of it. He reminds Timothy that Jesus Christ, “the seed of David”, was raised from the dead according to Paul’s Gospel. Two things are of interest here. First, Paul finds it important to mention “seed of David” to Timothy. This may have been just a title of honor, but in actuality, it means much more. Paul may have wanted to remind Timothy that Christ is the real Messiah, foretold by the prophets descending from the house and lineage of David. He is true Messiah, the Appointed One and no other. Also, as prophesied, he was raised from the dead “according to my gospel.” Personally, I’ve always taken the “my” in “my gospel” to mean the Gospel of Jesus Christ that St. Paul was preaching. I think this is valid. However, there has been scholarly speculation, no doubt specious at best, that Paul was preaching another form of Christianity that he himself had written. A better view is that Paul was referring to Luke’s gospel, which was the Gospel to which Paul had the easiest access. Luke the beloved physician was Paul’s constant companion for large parts of his ministry. Any other views are really not helpful, but tend to distract from the truth Paul is proclaiming.

St. Paul then mentions that because of this Gospel he is regarded as an evildoer, even unto bounds, yet the Word of God is not bound. We may be reminded of the trouble Paul had his entire ministry from the jealous Jews who dogged him as he planted churches in the ancient world, and of his eventual martyrdom at the hands of the Romans. Despite this trouble, there seems to be a sense of joy and exultation that the “the word of God is not bound.” Paul and other evangelists have planted the Word all over and it is bearing fruit. Because of this, in spite of his incarceration while he waited to be brought before Nero the second time, Paul is joyful. If only all of us could have such faith under such circumstances!

Paul then comes to three statements, followed by a pronouncement of God’s faithfulness to Himself. In fact, all of these statements have to do with faithfulness. He says: (2 Timothy 2:11-12): “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: 12 If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us:” Then, the pronouncement: (2 Timothy 2:13):”If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.”

If we examine these statements, we find truth that affects not only the household of faith, but also those who have chosen to remain outside it. First, “if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him.” Simply, this refers to the Christian being dead to the world, but alive in Christ. That is, we Christians have to turn a blind eye towards, and even actively avoid, many of the things of this present world in order to be faithful to Christ. We must strive, as much as possible, to keep ourselves “pure and unspotted by the world.” This doesn’t mean we oughtn’t to have fun, or to be actively engaged in the world, but we must reject and avoid the non-God ordained pleasures and activities that will draw us away from Him.

The second statement, “if we suffer, we will reign with him” needs some examination. While the Authorized Version translates it as “suffer”, the actual Greek word is u`pome,nw (hupomeno), which means to remain, abide, to persevere under misfortunes and trials to hold fast to one's faith in Christ; to endure. Most modern translations use the world “endure” rather than suffer. Yet, the meaning is clear, we believe. If we persevere, endure, or stand fast in the faith of Christ, we shall reign with him in Heaven. In short, those who cling to the faith in Christ will have the reward of His Presence forever.

Next, Paul tells us, “if we deny him, he will deny him.” This is chilling and real, yet it should not be a source of concern for those struggling to be faithful day by day. Even Peter denied Christ, but later repented and found grace. All of us, in some fashion, great or small, have denied Christ in some way in our lives. Yet, this is not the point. What is meant here is the great, final denial, a decision to go away from the Lord. This often begins with a gradual falling away, until one has demonstrated over many years that one is not with the Lord. There are also those who adamantly refuse to believe, to their own eternal detriment.

Paul sums this up by saying that even if we don’t believe in Him, God will remain true to Himself. Despite our unbelief, God is and always will be God. One version says: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.”

What this really means for the non-believer is that God will remain true to Himself no matter what our position. If one chooses, finally, to reject Him, so be it. He will let that decision stand on the Day of Judgment and let that soul depart into the nether regions without God. He will not suddenly turn and save that soul who has not chosen God, despite the outpourings of grace towards it for an entire lifetime. There must be finality, and so it will be. Even Christ cannot save in the afterlife. Once this earthly life is past, the die is cast for eternity.

These are chilling but just words from St. Paul. God loves us. He sent us His beloved Son and after that, the greatest evangelist the world has ever known to proclaim our salvation.
He gives us a lifetime to repent and be saved. He will love us forever if we, however imperfectly, return His love.

In the final analysis, Paul urges his bishop, Timothy, to remind his congregation to listen to this sound teaching and to “charge” them not to argue or dispute about words. In other words, don’t debate the words of the Gospel, but rather believe them. So much of Christianity, even today, is embroiled in debate or contention over various issues in the Church. Meanwhile, our adversary the Devil marches on. One commentator says this: “At the time of the great Communist revolution in Russia, the Orthodox Church was engaged in a tremendous argumentative crisis over the making of church vestments! Many a time, Christians have plunged into useless and silly arguments while the citadel of their faith was destroyed.” How true.

In the end, we don’t want to be “right” about intra-Church issues necessarily, but right about our faith in Jesus Christ. All else is meaningless, and may in fact destroy the faith of many. Useless argument may “subvert” the faith of those who hear us argue.

We must disregard the discordant voices of those in the Body. Instead, you must “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” , meaning we must pay attention to the important matters that pertain to the salvation of our souls. If we do this, all will be well with us, now and forever.

2 Timothy 2:9 “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.”

Thursday, July 21, 2011

When Truth Calls

When Truth Calls
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
5th Sunday in Trinity 2011
July 17, 2011

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.”

Our gospel for the day is a powerful “compressed” collection of teachings regarding the Christian life and our attitudes towards God. Not only does it illustrate what happens when we truly “open up” to God, but it also gives us some indication of our reaction to God’s call.

We’re all familiar with the scene from the fifth chapter of Luke. Jesus is preaching by the Lake of Gennesaret to a large crowd. The multitude is actually “pressing” upon Him. That is, the crowd is so large that Christ does not have any room and must take position in a boat some distance off shore. The Gospel tells us that “He sat down and taught the people out of the ship.” What is so remarkable about this is not so much the size of the crowd, which was very large, but why they came to hear Him. There must have been many motives for coming, ranging from the ones seeking a cure and to others who had heard about Jesus and were merely curious. But, judging by the “press” of the crowd, there must have been something more that the people wanted. It may be summed up in one word: TRUTH.

A long time ago, before the stock brokerage business went through its recent consolidation phase, there were many different and distinct brokerage firms. You may remember an ad for a brokerage firm named E.F. Hutton, which is no longer around. The tag line went, “When E.F. Hutton speaks, people listen.” Not to be trite, but when Christ was present during His earthly ministry, the same effect happened: “When Jesus Christ spoke, people listened.” We are told in Mat 7:29: “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Every word that Christ spoke was truth. The crowds recognized that and were drawn to it, like moths to the light.

There is something instinctive in mankind, something that hungers for the truth. This hunger is known by many names today: self-fulfillment, self-esteem, and self-actualization. They are all various attempts, usually vain, of people to fill the void in their souls. As St. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:7: ”Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Note that in the three modern phrases just used, self-fulfillment, self-esteem, and self-actualization, there is one flawed common denominator: SELF. When man looks to man or worse yet, to his own inner being for ultimate fulfillment, he will always be disappointed. Why? Because man by himself, being tainted by original sin and being finite, is incapable of providing that ultimate, infinite truth that he seeks. For that, he must look beyond himself to the Ultimate Itself, God. You may recall that famous saying by St. Augustine, that all of us have a God-sized hole in our souls, meaning that there is a space in our spiritual selves that only God can fill.

This is what the crowd sought, some of them consciously, while others acted on an unconscious urge they probably didn’t understand or even recognize. Yet, it was there, an urge moving them towards the Truth. Thus, they were drawn to Jesus. It’s been said by some early church fathers that God’s truth is so self-evident and so persuasive, that even the damned, upon hearing their judgment, will say to God, “Thou art just.”

In this case, Jesus picks Simon Peter’s boat, not out of coincidence, but out of the foreordained Will of God. Peter is soon to become a chosen instrument of God, although he doesn’t know it. His life will never be the same after meeting Jesus.

The next set of events set forth in this Gospel passage teach us about trust, about the effects of hearing the Word of God and about our reaction to the call of God.
First, Simon Peter trusts Jesus, as Christ tells him to launch his nets into the deep for a catch. Note that even though the nets have been washed and were ready to be put away and even though they had worked all night fruitlessly, Simon Peter recognizes the authority of Jesus and obeys His word. In effect, he opens up and is receptive to Christ.
The result is immediate and tremendous, as a miraculous draft of fishes occurs. The catch is so large that it actually overfills both boats. Matthew Henry tells us: “Now by this vast draught of fishes, (1.) Christ intended to show his dominion in the seas as well as on the dry land, over its wealth as over its waves. Thus he would show that he was that Son of man under whose feet all things were put, and particularly the fish of the sea and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the sea, Ps. viii. 8. (2.) He intended hereby to confirm the doctrine he had just now preached out of Peter's ship.”

The parallel to our lives is direct and powerful. When we trust Christ, when we listen to His truth contained in Holy Scripture and to the stirrings of our soul through the Holy Spirit, things begin to happen in our lives. While they may not be as dramatic as the miraculous draft of fishes, they are nonetheless real and meaningful. Often, the Spirit of God speaks to our spirits in ways and on levels we don’t understand. We only begin to appreciate this later when the fruit of the Spirit begins to appear. That is, when one begins to bear the fruit of love, joy, peace, contentment and gentleness.

This fruit has its seeds planted when one listens to Jesus and the Holy Spirit. This may be to what Jesus is referring when He speaks of the Kingdom of God being like a tiny mustard seed, from which sprouted a great tree that gave shade to many. (Mt. 13:31) The seed of God, once planted in a soul, will, with proper nurturing, bear great fruit. This nurturing includes regular Sunday worship, fellowship with other Christians, and private prayer.

Simon Peter teaches us one final truth from this passage, namely, our reaction to the call of God. After seeing the great catch of fish and the context in which it occurred, he realizes that he is in the presence of Holiness. Note that Peter does not offer Our Lord a handshake, or a “high five”, or even an encounter group-type hug. Contrasting his own unworthiness with the Purity before him, he falls to his knees and says, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The Gospel tells us he was “astonished” at the miracle that was taking place. In fact, in good Hebraic theological fashion, he was probably terrified that the Holiness near him would consume him in his sinfulness. He does not, in good modern style, get immediately familiar with Jesus or attempt to get on a first-name basis with Christ. In this case, Simon realizes his own sinfulness vis-à-vis the incredible holiness of Jesus. He senses his unworthiness ands falls to his knees.

Here is where Peter gets it exactly right. As you know, in the Bible Simon Peter is an “Everyman” figure. On one hand, he’s brash, tempestuous and impulsive. On the other hand, he’s afraid, doesn’t tell the truth and is actually cowardly. But, he always cares. He’s passionate and he’s definitely not lukewarm. He is, in fact, someone with whom God can work. God can turn great sinners into great saints, but He cannot turn lukewarm people into anything. Remember the quote from Rev. 3:15-16 as the Holy Spirit upbraids the Laodiceans: “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.” That is a very strong statement.

Sometimes, we tend to over-stress and undervalue the familiarity we have with God through Christ. There is a real danger in moving from the concept of “What a friend we have in Jesus” to the overly familiar, “My buddy Jesus.” One is a respectful, worshipful admiration and thanksgiving for Christ’s advocacy for us. This is His true Friendship towards us. The other leans towards an arrogant demand that God accept me “just as I am”, without any excuses. While it is true that our merciful and all-loving Father accepts us as we are, He does so in repentance through Christ, He does not want us to stay in that spiritually neutral state. Rather, we are to grow in Christ and to become mature Christians, despite our physical age. God wants us to exhibit the signs of mature Christianity: tempered tongues, abundant stewardship and grateful hearts. As we mature in Christ we can move from the statement of Peter, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord”, to where, with a simple and worshipful heart we look up and say with St. Thomas, “My Lord and my God.”

Our growth won’t stop there. As we grow in the Spirit and in our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, God prepares us for the next step. Recall what Christ said to Peter, “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men.” What does this mean? Does it mean, like my first landlord in Atlanta, that we are to go out and pass out flyers for our favorite tele-evangelist? Personally, I don’t think so. However, we are supposed to be a walking advertisement for Christ.

As our process of sanctification continues, as we become more and more filled with the Spirit, God will put people in our way that need what we have. Think of this; you may be the difference in someone’s life. You, or rather the Spirit of God in you, may be the difference between joy vs. despair, love vs. indifference and self-acceptance vs. self-loathing. Most importantly, you very well may be saving someone from eternal oblivion and giving them the certainty of eternal bliss. Not to be smug or arrogant, but we Christians have the truth. With an attitude of thankfulness and humility, it is our job to give it away. When we do this, when we give away what we have, we will overflow with more and more joy. Just like the miraculous draft of fishes, our hearts and souls will be full of the love and joy of Christ.

This is what the Gospel is all about. This is how you can affect the world, one soul at a time. Thanks be to God!

Luke 5:3 “And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.”


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

AMEN.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Consistency and the Gospel

Consistency and the Gospel
Trinity IV, 2011

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
July 17, 2011

Luke 6:37 37 ¶ Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:

It’s been said that the Bible contains all the answers to man’s quandaries, no matter what they may be. Christians claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, infallible and inerrant, containing all truth. Christians say that no matter what your question or problem, the Bible can answer it, or at least shed light on it in a real and meaningful way.

That’s a mighty big claim. “How can a book, written over thousands of years by many, many voices contain such truth?”ask modernists and liberal scholars. How can such a book that’s been translated into more languages than any other book in history have any semblance of consistency or coherence, and how can it have any application to modern folk today?

That’s an excellent question, one that’s been asked ever since the canons of the Old and New Testaments were finalized. When critics begin their attack on Christianity, they usually begin with the Bible. Bring down the Bible, they say, and one can bring down the Christian religion. Prove the Bible to be ultimately inconsistent or untrue and one can destroy Christianity. Some sects and cults, such as the Mormons and the Jehovah Witnesses, even have their own versions of the Scriptures, edited and expurgated to fit their own doctrinal views. Thus, as we are all very well aware, there are those in this world, inspired and energized by Satan, who would like nothing better than to see Christianity fail.

Yet, despite attacks from all angles and from all perspectives, Christianity prevails. Christianity prevails despite its own best efforts to shoot itself in the foot. By that I mean that Christians still spend a great deal of their efforts fighting, disagreeing or feuding with each other. Despite our numerous enemies without, within we are still our greatest own enemy. In the famous words of Pogo, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

Yet, Christianity prevails. The Word of God still speaks to people with a gentle force that is unreckoned in this world. The Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are still efficacious to those who use them faithfully. The Holy Spirit of God still hovers over His People, guarding, guiding and shepherding them. The promise of Christ still holds true: “Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Finally, the Golden Thread of the Gospel, despite two thousand years and innumerable translations, still shines brightly through the ages

That Golden Thread of Truth shines brightly in today’s Gospel as well. Today’s Gospel shines with at least two threads, one dealing with reciprocity, the other dealing with hypocrisy. There is actually a connection between the two, although we will speak mainly of that great failing of mankind, hypocrisy.

This portion of the Gospel comes from one of Christ’s great discourses from Luke 6, called “The Sermon on the Plain.” The entire sermon is simply self-evident truth. For example, in the section chosen for today’s Gospel, Christ tells us several principles on which we should base our lives, for they provide the basis on which one can build a society.

Allow me to summarize them briefly:
1. Judge not and you shall not be judged.
2. The measure that you give is the measure that you get.
3. Can the blind lead the blind?
4. The student is not above his master.
5. Avoid hypocrisy
Of all these points, the two on which we will focus on reciprocity and hypocrisy. They may be the most fundamental of all because the relationship principle they embody carries through to all of human relations. That principle is simply the quality of consistency. Being consistent in all of our actions, speech, and intentions really brings us the most benefit out of life and keeps our relationships pure.

Being consistent underlies the law that undergirds society. It’s been called the “reciprocity rule.” What it says, basically, is that what you put into something is what you’ll get out of it. The more you give, the more you get. Reciprocity is also the return or “mutual-ness” expected or felt in relationships among people.
When you pay a compliment, it’s only expected that the recipient says “thank you.” It’s like the payment or acknowledgement of the compliment. When you are courteous to others, it is expected that you receive courtesy in return. Yet, it doesn’t always happen, and that can be an occasion for wrath and even sin for us. Recall how you feel when you admit someone into a line of traffic ahead of you and they do not acknowledge your courtesy. It doesn’t feel good, does it? Sometimes, it even raises our ire.

As an aside, imagine the wrath God the Father will exhibit to those who ultimately reject His great offering, Jesus Christ. The Father gave us the very best that He had. How would you feel if someone rejected the best present that you could offer? I shudder to contemplate that wrath on a divine level.

Reciprocity is a key principle in life. It works in finances, it works in the workplace, and it certainly works in marriage. It’s almost too simple, for it says that the more effort, money, time and emotional involvement one invests in something, the more one will receive. Of course, there are exceptions, as life always has variations, but in general, it works and it works largely.

The other lesson which rests on the principle of consistency is probably the greatest of all: avoid hypocrisy. Live as you would have others live, treat others as you would have them treat you, and do what you say that you will do. Don’t do things personally that you would condemn in others. Don’t condemn (judge unfairly) someone when you do the same thing. In short, have integrity in everything that you do.

This is one of the greatest lessons Christ can teach us. When we are consistent in our actions and our speech and when our actions mirror our beliefs, we are the way to true godliness and peace. Best of all, we seek to avoid that most common accusation leveled against us Christians: “You’re all a bunch of hypocrites.” You see, when one tries to live a godly life and to adopt high standards, it’s only natural that one will fail occasionally, or even often. This is when our enemies attack us, for they seize upon our occasional failure and hold that up for the norm. For example, every time a famous evangelist falls, they rejoice and trumpet the prevalence of hypocrisy in Christianity. What they don’t see are the millions of ordinary Christians going about their lives and trying the best they can to emulate Christ. What they don’t see is the attempt to avoid hypocrisy and to remain consistent.

Yet, that urge to judge unfairly, or to condemn unrighteously, is so strong amongst all of us. It is so easy to see others’ failing and conveniently forget our own. It is so easy to point the finger of blame at another, while, as the old saying goes we have three fingers pointing back at us.

Perhaps the bigger question is why? Why do all of us, at some time or another, take such perverse joy or even pleasure at highlighting the failures or misdeeds of others? Is it to take a mis-guided sense of superiority? Do we, even in a small way, want to think ourselves a bit better than the other person? Or, is it a way to take attention away from our own misdeeds and failings? Perhaps. Why do we, even in the tiniest sense of moral superiority, want to vaunt ourselves over others?

Now, there is no way that any of us in this room would openly rejoice over the misfortunes of others, even in the minutest way. That is too crass, too heartless, and too remote to consider. Unlike the rough crowd in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, who hurled abuse and refuse on the poor unfortunate as he was tied to the whipping post, we could never do that. It is unthinkable.

Yet, in the recesses of all of our souls is that knowledge that we are fallen. From that sense of fallen nature, however deeply buried it may seem, comes a need for self-justification, a need to say that, basically, we’re all right. From that comes a need to see ourselves better in some way, however small or great that may be. Thus, springs the root of hypocrisy.

The point is, without true self love, we are all hypocrites. As long as there is some need for self-justification, we will be inconsistent simply because we are all fallen, sinful creatures in need of a Savior. We cannot justify ourselves, either to man or to God. We cannot love ourselves without this knowledge, because without the justification of Christ in our souls, we are still flawed and empty. Our love for ourselves, without Christ, is a lie because we actually love the fallen human nature that is our native state instead of the redeemed, forgiven, risen soul that now belongs to Him. Without Jesus Christ, all love is false, because He is the source of all true love. When we realize our true value in Him, we will love ourselves and we will be consistent.

That’s really what we are about today. We are learning to love Christ. We are trying, though this love, to preserve sanity and godly order in a world gone its own way. As always, keep your eyes fixed firmly upon Christ and all will be well. As with the rule of reciprocity, the more that we cling to Christ, the more strength, love, joy and peace we will receive.

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

Promise and Confirmation

Promise and confirmation
Gen. 18:1-16
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
3rd Sunday after Trinity 2011
July 10, 2011


Genesis 18:1 "And the LORD appeared unto him in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day;"

Good morning and may God’s richest blessings be on all of you. We are blessed to be together and to hear and celebrate the mystery of God’s love for us today and always.
It seems to me that the heat today is appropriate, especially in the light of this Sunday’s Old Testament reading. It happens to be a favorite of mine. Why? It is a very rich passage that brings together many wonderful themes, including prophecy, promise, and the Personhood of God. It also proves to us both the consistency of God, especially as concerned with promise and the execution of it.
The scene opens as Abraham sits in his tent, “in the heat of the day.” One could imagine a day similar to today, minus the humidity. Abraham is on the Plains of Mamre, which according to one commentator, “The place is the “plains of Mamre” which is Hebron and evidently had a grove of oak trees.” So, we know that it is a place of repose. Now the Scripture plainly says that it was the Lord who appeared to Abraham, and judging by his reaction, this seems to be the case. He runs from his tent door to meet them and bowed to the ground. His actions clearly show, even in the overly-demonstrative atmosphere of the ancient Middle East, that these men were clearly important. For example, even in today’s Middle East, before the fall of Saddam Hussein, one could clearly see a similar kind of obeisance paid to him, as soldiers and even ministers would practically prostrate themselves before him.
In the story, Abraham’s graciousness continues as he begs his guests to stay, rest, wash their feet, and dine with him. We know that the washing of feet was a customary Middle Eastern courtesy, especially with the hot, dusty, climate and the quality of roads as compared with ours. Imagine trudging down a country road in the summer just outside of Odessa, Texas for example. One’s feet would be dusty and hot. How refreshing a foot bath would be!
After offering this courtesy, Abraham runs to his wife, instructs her to make fresh meal cakes, then runs to the herd to select a choice calf and gives it to be slaughtered and dressed. Finally, when this wonderful veal is done, he brings it out with the fresh bakestuffs, accompanied by butter and milk. It is wonderful, tasty, healthy and very hospitable meal. Note too, that although these “men” are obviously divine beings, they consume actual physical food and drink. They are not mere apparitions, but real people, albeit of a divine source. Note too, that Abraham’s reaction to offer them the best that he had is entirely appropriate. It goes without saying that we should always offer our best to God.
Finally, after all this, Abraham stands by them while they eat. He doesn’t even sit with them to partake of the meal. Instead, he serves them, paying them great honor.
Let us now consider the significance of this occasion. First, we know that it was the Lord who appeared to Abraham, but the Scriptures are not clear as to which Person of the Trinity appeared to him. The Scriptures say “Yehovah”, meaning “the existing One”, but we do not know for sure whether this indicates God the Father or God the Son. Some scholars even surmise that the “three men” were the Holy Trinity Himself, appearing to Abraham as Father, Son and Holy Ghost. While this may have some merit, perhaps a better answer might be that Jesus appeared to Abraham as the pre-incarnate Christ, accompanied by two angels. This view appears to have merit because in the later passages of the same chapter, these men turn towards Sodom and Gomorrah to execute judgment upon it. In the opening verses of Chapter 19 of Genesis, “two men” appear to Lot as he sat in the gate of Sodom. It is most likely that these were the same angels who accompanied Jesus on His visit to Abraham, while Jesus returned to glory in Heaven.
At any rate, it is a wonderful connection between God and man. The Lord appears to Abraham and reconfirms the promise He gave to him in Genesis 17:21. Recall that this is where God tells him that his covenant will not be with Ishmael: “But my covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.” The promised heir is not even born yet, but God knows his name and has placed him at the center of his covenant! This is amazing prophecy, which God will shortly make concrete.
This is the promise which God re-confirms in the presence of Abraham and Sarah, who is in the tent, listening. In the words of Genesis 18:10: "And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son. And Sarah heard it in the tent door, which was behind him.” There is now no doubt as to what the Lord intends. He intends to fulfill all the words that he spoke to Abraham, namely that He would make Abraham the father of a great nation by providing him with the promised son and heir. He will keep His promise and He will be faithful.
Note, however, Sarah’s reaction: (Genesis 18:12) “Therefore Sarah laughed within herself, saying, After I am waxed old shall I have pleasure, my lord being old also?” This reaction is very human and very natural. She is well into menopause. By human standards, both she and her husband, now 99 years old, cannot conceive children. It is too late. One commentator says this is a laugh of bitter irony, born of deep disappointment over many years: He says: “These remarks of Sarah’s show us the basis of her doubts. She laughed not out of cocky arrogance but because a life of long disappointment had taught her not to clutch at straws. Hopelessness, not pride, underlay her unbelief. Her self-restraint in not openly expressing her doubts and the sadness behind them go far to explain the gentleness of the divine rebuke.”
While Abraham did not hear her laugh, for she “laughed within herself”, the Lord did and gently rebukes her for it. The statement (Genesis 18:14): “Is any thing too hard for the LORD?” says it all. When Sarah again denies that she doubted, or laughed, the Lord simply says, (Genesis 18:15): “Nay; but thou didst laugh.” The Lord knows us through and through.
The story ends as the men rise up and “looked towards Sodom.” Abraham rises up and as the good host, escorts them on their way. This portion of the visitation is complete.
What significance can we draw form this wonderful Old Testament story? Is it merely just a chance meeting of three men and Abraham? It is just an encounter of God and Man? Why is this story important to us modern-day Christians?
Two words are appropriate to this story. They are “consistency” and “completeness.” First of all, we see the consistency of God in His behavior and promises to Abraham. The Lord promised, the Lord reconfirms his promise in this story, and soon the promised son and heir will be born. All of the words spoken to Abraham will come true. God is completely consistent and completely faithful to Abraham.
The lesson for us is that God is also completely consistent and faithful with us. He always keeps His promises to us and He is always faithful. He cannot do otherwise, for to do so would violate His own perfect Nature. Thus, as simplistic as this may sound, we can always rely upon God. We can rely upon Him always and for certain. While our prayers are not always answered in the way we would have them done, they are always answered, and for those who pray to do God’s Will, in a way that is best for us. This is a fact upon which we can relay without fail. God is always faithful. Thus, He is totally consistent, whereas we as mere humans cannot always be. Bishop Finick of the Free Church of England once mentioned in a lecture:”No one is totally consistent.” No one, that is, except God.
The other word to consider is “completeness.” As God fulfills his word to Abraham, He set in motion the great chain of events that would create an environment for the coming of the greatest promise of all time, Jesus Christ. While in this story, we see the pre-incarnate Christ coming to man; in the fullness of time God the Son would come to us to fulfill the great promise of all, that of forgiveness of sin and a new life with God. Jesus Christ would come to fulfill the promise made by God the Father in the Garden of Eden. Just as God spoke to Eve to tell her that “her seed” would bruise the head of the serpent, just as he would bruise the heel, so it would come to pass. Satan did indeed bruise Jesus in a major way, as he suffered torture and death at the hands of sinful men. Yet, Jesus would crush the head of the serpent by destroying his chief and deadliest weapon, death. Christ came to free us from death, despair and eternal night. We live because of Him. We live in hope because of him and because God is faithful, true and good. Finally, we live in hope because on the plains of Mamre, some several thousand years ago, God reconfirmed his promise to Abraham. Through him and ultimately through Christ, we are indeed the sons and daughters of promise.
Genesis 18:10: “And he said, I will certainly return unto thee according to the time of life; and, lo, Sarah thy wife shall have a son.”

Spirit and Growth

Palm Sunday 2011
“Majesty, Perceptions and Reality”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church

Humor Opening: First, some “groaners” for you this morning from the World Wide Web:
Missing Missionary and Sick Cannibal
Did you hear about the cannibal who got sick after eating the missionary? He boiled him, but he was a friar!
Total Oneness
What did the Zen Buddhist Monk say to the Hotdog Vender?...Make me One with everything.
and finally,
The Confused Samaritan
A man was beaten up by robbers on a road to London. He lay there, half dead and in bad shape. A Vicar came along, saw him and passed by on the other side. Next, a monk came by but also walked by quickly on the other side. Finally, a social worker came along, looked at the man and said "Whoever did this needs help!"

We enjoy jokes and funny stories because they give us a different “twist” on reality, or they present to us some aspect of our lives that we may have not considered, usually in a funny or humorous way. Our Epistle and Gospel lessons for this Palm Sunday do the same, that is, they present to us an aspect of reality that we may have not considered, just this time not in a way that we may find humorous or even comfortable.

That is because the Gospel and the Epistle show us a side of human nature that is not attractive; in fact they paint a picture of mankind’s will run riot, in total revolt against God. The Gospel from St. Matthew, chapter 27, shows us exactly what happens when mankind seeks its own will absent the guiding, moderating and sanctifying touch of the Holy Ghost.

The scene depicted in today’s Gospel comes on the heels of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, spoken of in Matthew 21. In that tremendous scene, recall how the people strew their garments in the way and waved palm branches, saying: “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” This account is also echoed in Mark 11 and John 12. John tells us that the people that had seen Lazarus raised from the dead met him, and that a great multitude met Jesus because they had heard that he had done this great sign. The whole city was moved and said “Who is this?” They were told, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” It is at this point that the earthly tide begins to move against Jesus, as the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities saw the people’s hearts going after Him. They heard the hosannas, they had seen the overturned tables of the moneychangers in the Temple and now they said to themselves, in the words of John’s gospel: “Behold how ye prevail nothing: lo, the world is gone after him.”

Here is the first picture of rebellious human will pitted against the holiness of God. Rather than accept the one who had just fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass”, they chose to reject Him instead. Actually, it is much worse than that. They now actively plotted against Jesus, knowing that they must destroy him. Why? What was their motivation? It was jealousy, pure, simple jealousy, motivated by fear of losing their position. It was this all-too-human emotion that set the stage for Jesus’ death on the cross.

In the intervening chapters between Matt. 21 and 27, we see Jesus, teaching, healing and ministering. We also see, like a sinister sub-current, the plot of the Pharisees to find a way to capture Him. They succeeded, of course, on Maundy Thursday, after Jesus had just celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples. In this all-important supper, Christ gave the sacrament of the Holy Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, to mankind. We intend to discuss this more at our Maundy Thursday service, but suffice it to say that Christ forever changed the theological landscape by converting the old remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the Passover, to a new and everlasting Sacrament, the Holy Communion, to which we often refer by its Greek name, the Holy Eucharist. Maundy Thursday gave us a remembrance of our deliverance from the bondage of sin and death, as we enter into the New Testament or New Covenant through the sacramental eating of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The drama of that New Testament sacrament begins today, as we begin Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we approach the holiest day of the year, the blessed Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We look forward to the joy of Easter, having passed through the rigors of Lent.

Easter, however, does not come without a price. This is what our Gospel for the day teaches us. I have often wondered why we do not read the account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as told in Matt. 21 or John 12. After all, it is Palm Sunday, the day that Christ was adored by multitudes and praised as the Son of David. The answer to this may be twofold. First, we read of the crucifixion on Palm Sunday, then of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, a week later. This may have been meant for those who either did not, or could not, participate in Holy Week services. Also, and more importantly, it reminds us graphically of the price paid for our salvation. Salvation comes to us, but not without a price, a very dear price. We see this as human will, marred and deceived by sin, , yet still free will, leads to an inexorable path to the Cross and the fulfillment of God’s Great Plan of Salvation. All the human “players” in this drama, act in a way contrary to righteousness, yet in the glory of God’s predestined Plan, still bring about His desired end. This is truly mysterious and truly glorious.

First, we see the price paid by Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer and later, sincere penitent. He returns to the Sanhedrin and says, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” He bringsback the blood money and seeks conciliation of some sort, but is met with the cold reply of the Pharisees: “What is that to us? see thou to that.” Judas indeed sinned a great sin in betraying Jesus, but it is widely thought that he, as a Zealot, hoped to force Jesus’ hand to call down legions of angels and dramatically end the Roman occupation of Palestine. His truly great sin was that of despair, as he repents, falls into deep despair, and takes his own life by hanging himself. This may be why Dante places Judas Iscariot at the base of Hell in his Inferno, just barely above Satan himself. Once again, we see human will juxtaposed against the sovereign Mercy of God.

Next, we see the Pharisees and Jewish rulers accusing Jesus before Pilate. This is further evidence of twisted human will braying against God. As they continue in their accusations, Pontius Pilate marvels as Jesus stands mute in the face of their trumped-up charges. Later, he even tries to release Jesus, knowing that jealousy and envy were the Jews’ reasons for accusing him. He even attempts to offer a substitute, holding to the tradition of releasing a notable prisoner to the people. The chief priests persuade the people to ask for Barabbas, another zealot who had recently led a revolt against the Roman authorities. This must have been distasteful to the governor, for he is persuaded of Jesus’ innocence and fully cognizant of Barabbas’ guilt. This is confirmed when Pilate’s wife sends him a message, telling him that she has been bothered by a dream concerning Jesus, removing any doubt that he is a just man, unjustly accused. For a moment, Pilate looks almost heroic, as he tries to deliver Jesus from the Jews’ insidious plans. He even protests to the people saying, “Why, what evil hath he done?” It is at this point that Pilate could have thwarted the evil plans of the Jewish authorities. All he had to do was give the word and Jesus would be released. Instead, when he saw that a tumult was being made, he takes the easy way out, the expedient measure. He simply washes his hands in front of the crowd and declares himself innocent, which he is not, because he possessed the power to save Jesus. Instead, he caves in to the will of the people and Jesus’ fate is sealed. Here again, another example of human will running directly counter to the righteousness of God.

Now, it’s the multitude’s turn to be examined. Disappointed because Christ was not the earthly King they had expected, the long-awaited military Messiah that they hoped would deliver Israel, they cast him aside. Worse yet, they consign Him to a dreadful torture death. “Let him be crucified!” they cry out. In John’s account, this scene is even more chilling. When, in John 19:15, Pilate says, “Shall I crucify your king?” the reply is, “We have no king but Caesar.” Thus, in one statement, the chief priests spoke and the people assented that God was no longer their King. The Almighty Jehovah, who delivered them from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and gave them the Promised Land, was no longer their king. If this is not human will opposing itself to God, please tell me.

On Palm Sunday some two thousand-odd years ago, we see an unholy human “trinity” of evil, made up of the chief priests, the people and the Roman authorities, all arrayed against Jesus. To this dreadful armada of power stirring against Jesus, what is our Lord’s response? Jesus did nothing, absolutely nothing. When he was attacked and accused by the Pharisees, he said nothing. When Pilate asks him if he is indeed King of the Jews, Jesus replies “Thou sayest.” Modern translations render this as “You say so” and “You have said it.” He doesn’t confirm or deny his kingship or divinity, but stands mute, ready to fulfill the pre-determined Will of His Father.

Here we come to the glory of Palm Sunday. Despite mankind’s best efforts to thwart the Will of God, despite its desire to do the worst to Jesus, namely physical death, in the end all mankind can do is perform the overarching , sovereign Will of God. This is God’s world, His creation, and He will do what he wants with it. In a supreme example of complete sovereignty over the world and the wills of men, Jesus Christ allows himself to be offered as the spotless Lamb of God,” the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’, as Rev. 13:8 tells us.

Today, we Anglicans focus on the Lamb. We look to and worship the One who gave Himself for us, in perfect obedience to the will of the Father. Today, we try to recognize the price paid for our salvation and fail utterly, because the price is too high, the cost is too great. We as Anglicans do not focus largely on the Passion, as our Roman Catholic brethren tend to do, nor do we skip right to Easter and try to forget all that “unpleasantness” on Good Friday, as some Fundamentalist groups tend to do. Rather, in a sober, balanced and worshipful manner, we seek to praise and glorify God for Lent, for Passiontide and of course, for Easter. We are almost there, but we not there yet. We still have the somber, yet glorious experience of Holy Week ahead of us. Pray that all of us may walk with our Lord day by day on His way to the Cross and then to His glorious Resurrection. Read the propers in the Prayer Book for each day of Holy Week. Let them speak to your innermost self. By the time we come to Easter, I pray that your soul will proclaim, “My Lord and My God!”

Matt. 27:1-2 “Now when morning was come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: 2 and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pilate the governor.”

All Glory be to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN

Majesty,Perceptions and Reality

Palm Sunday 2011
“Majesty, Perceptions and Reality”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church

Humor Opening: First, some “groaners” for you this morning from the World Wide Web:
Missing Missionary and Sick Cannibal
Did you hear about the cannibal who got sick after eating the missionary? He boiled him, but he was a friar!
Total Oneness
What did the Zen Buddhist Monk say to the Hotdog Vender?...Make me One with everything.
and finally,
The Confused Samaritan
A man was beaten up by robbers on a road to London. He lay there, half dead and in bad shape. A Vicar came along, saw him and passed by on the other side. Next, a monk came by but also walked by quickly on the other side. Finally, a social worker came along, looked at the man and said "Whoever did this needs help!"

We enjoy jokes and funny stories because they give us a different “twist” on reality, or they present to us some aspect of our lives that we may have not considered, usually in a funny or humorous way. Our Epistle and Gospel lessons for this Palm Sunday do the same, that is, they present to us an aspect of reality that we may have not considered, just this time not in a way that we may find humorous or even comfortable.

That is because the Gospel and the Epistle show us a side of human nature that is not attractive; in fact they paint a picture of mankind’s will run riot, in total revolt against God. The Gospel from St. Matthew, chapter 27, shows us exactly what happens when mankind seeks its own will absent the guiding, moderating and sanctifying touch of the Holy Ghost.

The scene depicted in today’s Gospel comes on the heels of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, spoken of in Matthew 21. In that tremendous scene, recall how the people strew their garments in the way and waved palm branches, saying: “Hosanna to the son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest.” This account is also echoed in Mark 11 and John 12. John tells us that the people that had seen Lazarus raised from the dead met him, and that a great multitude met Jesus because they had heard that he had done this great sign. The whole city was moved and said “Who is this?” They were told, “This is the prophet, Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee.” It is at this point that the earthly tide begins to move against Jesus, as the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities saw the people’s hearts going after Him. They heard the hosannas, they had seen the overturned tables of the moneychangers in the Temple and now they said to themselves, in the words of John’s gospel: “Behold how ye prevail nothing: lo, the world is gone after him.”

Here is the first picture of rebellious human will pitted against the holiness of God. Rather than accept the one who had just fulfilled the prophecy of Zechariah 9:9 “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold, thy king cometh unto thee; he is just, and having salvation; lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass”, they chose to reject Him instead. Actually, it is much worse than that. They now actively plotted against Jesus, knowing that they must destroy him. Why? What was their motivation? It was jealousy, pure, simple jealousy, motivated by fear of losing their position. It was this all-too-human emotion that set the stage for Jesus’ death on the cross.

In the intervening chapters between Matt. 21 and 27, we see Jesus, teaching, healing and ministering. We also see, like a sinister sub-current, the plot of the Pharisees to find a way to capture Him. They succeeded, of course, on Maundy Thursday, after Jesus had just celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples. In this all-important supper, Christ gave the sacrament of the Holy Communion, also known as the Lord’s Supper, to mankind. We intend to discuss this more at our Maundy Thursday service, but suffice it to say that Christ forever changed the theological landscape by converting the old remembrance of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, the Passover, to a new and everlasting Sacrament, the Holy Communion, to which we often refer by its Greek name, the Holy Eucharist. Maundy Thursday gave us a remembrance of our deliverance from the bondage of sin and death, as we enter into the New Testament or New Covenant through the sacramental eating of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.

The drama of that New Testament sacrament begins today, as we begin Holy Week. Beginning with Palm Sunday and culminating in Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday, we approach the holiest day of the year, the blessed Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We look forward to the joy of Easter, having passed through the rigors of Lent.

Easter, however, does not come without a price. This is what our Gospel for the day teaches us. I have often wondered why we do not read the account of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as told in Matt. 21 or John 12. After all, it is Palm Sunday, the day that Christ was adored by multitudes and praised as the Son of David. The answer to this may be twofold. First, we read of the crucifixion on Palm Sunday, then of the resurrection on Easter Sunday, a week later. This may have been meant for those who either did not, or could not, participate in Holy Week services. Also, and more importantly, it reminds us graphically of the price paid for our salvation. Salvation comes to us, but not without a price, a very dear price. We see this as human will, marred and deceived by sin, , yet still free will, leads to an inexorable path to the Cross and the fulfillment of God’s Great Plan of Salvation. All the human “players” in this drama, act in a way contrary to righteousness, yet in the glory of God’s predestined Plan, still bring about His desired end. This is truly mysterious and truly glorious.

First, we see the price paid by Judas Iscariot, Christ’s betrayer and later, sincere penitent. He returns to the Sanhedrin and says, “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” He bringsback the blood money and seeks conciliation of some sort, but is met with the cold reply of the Pharisees: “What is that to us? see thou to that.” Judas indeed sinned a great sin in betraying Jesus, but it is widely thought that he, as a Zealot, hoped to force Jesus’ hand to call down legions of angels and dramatically end the Roman occupation of Palestine. His truly great sin was that of despair, as he repents, falls into deep despair, and takes his own life by hanging himself. This may be why Dante places Judas Iscariot at the base of Hell in his Inferno, just barely above Satan himself. Once again, we see human will juxtaposed against the sovereign Mercy of God.

Next, we see the Pharisees and Jewish rulers accusing Jesus before Pilate. This is further evidence of twisted human will braying against God. As they continue in their accusations, Pontius Pilate marvels as Jesus stands mute in the face of their trumped-up charges. Later, he even tries to release Jesus, knowing that jealousy and envy were the Jews’ reasons for accusing him. He even attempts to offer a substitute, holding to the tradition of releasing a notable prisoner to the people. The chief priests persuade the people to ask for Barabbas, another zealot who had recently led a revolt against the Roman authorities. This must have been distasteful to the governor, for he is persuaded of Jesus’ innocence and fully cognizant of Barabbas’ guilt. This is confirmed when Pilate’s wife sends him a message, telling him that she has been bothered by a dream concerning Jesus, removing any doubt that he is a just man, unjustly accused. For a moment, Pilate looks almost heroic, as he tries to deliver Jesus from the Jews’ insidious plans. He even protests to the people saying, “Why, what evil hath he done?” It is at this point that Pilate could have thwarted the evil plans of the Jewish authorities. All he had to do was give the word and Jesus would be released. Instead, when he saw that a tumult was being made, he takes the easy way out, the expedient measure. He simply washes his hands in front of the crowd and declares himself innocent, which he is not, because he possessed the power to save Jesus. Instead, he caves in to the will of the people and Jesus’ fate is sealed. Here again, another example of human will running directly counter to the righteousness of God.

Now, it’s the multitude’s turn to be examined. Disappointed because Christ was not the earthly King they had expected, the long-awaited military Messiah that they hoped would deliver Israel, they cast him aside. Worse yet, they consign Him to a dreadful torture death. “Let him be crucified!” they cry out. In John’s account, this scene is even more chilling. When, in John 19:15, Pilate says, “Shall I crucify your king?” the reply is, “We have no king but Caesar.” Thus, in one statement, the chief priests spoke and the people assented that God was no longer their King. The Almighty Jehovah, who delivered them from Egypt, parted the Red Sea, and gave them the Promised Land, was no longer their king. If this is not human will opposing itself to God, please tell me.

On Palm Sunday some two thousand-odd years ago, we see an unholy human “trinity” of evil, made up of the chief priests, the people and the Roman authorities, all arrayed against Jesus. To this dreadful armada of power stirring against Jesus, what is our Lord’s response? Jesus did nothing, absolutely nothing. When he was attacked and accused by the Pharisees, he said nothing. When Pilate asks him if he is indeed King of the Jews, Jesus replies “Thou sayest.” Modern translations render this as “You say so” and “You have said it.” He doesn’t confirm or deny his kingship or divinity, but stands mute, ready to fulfill the pre-determined Will of His Father.

Here we come to the glory of Palm Sunday. Despite mankind’s best efforts to thwart the Will of God, despite its desire to do the worst to Jesus, namely physical death, in the end all mankind can do is perform the overarching , sovereign Will of God. This is God’s world, His creation, and He will do what he wants with it. In a supreme example of complete sovereignty over the world and the wills of men, Jesus Christ allows himself to be offered as the spotless Lamb of God,” the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world’, as Rev. 13:8 tells us.

Today, we Anglicans focus on the Lamb. We look to and worship the One who gave Himself for us, in perfect obedience to the will of the Father. Today, we try to recognize the price paid for our salvation and fail utterly, because the price is too high, the cost is too great. We as Anglicans do not focus largely on the Passion, as our Roman Catholic brethren tend to do, nor do we skip right to Easter and try to forget all that “unpleasantness” on Good Friday, as some Fundamentalist groups tend to do. Rather, in a sober, balanced and worshipful manner, we seek to praise and glorify God for Lent, for Passiontide and of course, for Easter. We are almost there, but we not there yet. We still have the somber, yet glorious experience of Holy Week ahead of us. Pray that all of us may walk with our Lord day by day on His way to the Cross and then to His glorious Resurrection. Read the propers in the Prayer Book for each day of Holy Week. Let them speak to your innermost self. By the time we come to Easter, I pray that your soul will proclaim, “My Lord and My God!”

Matt. 27:1-2 “Now when morning was come, all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel against Jesus to put him to death: 2 and they bound him, and led him away, and delivered him up to Pilate the governor.”

All Glory be to the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, now and forever. AMEN

Foreshadowing and Favor

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. In the return, 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 will see, this catch didn’t involved fishes any more, but the souls of men. Christ then ate and had fellowship with them. He then 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, 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 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.

AMEN

"A Little While"

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
The Third Sunday after Easter

May 15, 2011

“A little while…”

John 16:16 “ A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me, because I go to the Father.”

From one of the most beloved books of the New Testament comes this interesting and puzzling statement. John the beloved disciple tells us that Christ speaks to the apostles thus, both puzzling them and intriguing them at the same time. In fact, in the verse following this one, some of the disciples openly questioned this. They asked, “What is this that he saith unto us, A little while, and ye shall not see me: and again, a little while, and ye shall see me: and, Because I go to the Father?18 They said therefore, What is this that he saith, A little while? we cannot tell what he saith. “What is this that he saith to us?”

In short, they were baffled. As a boy, listening to this passage in Trinity Episcopal Church in Monmouth, Illinois and again as a teenager at St. Joseph of Arimathea Church in Hendersonville, Tennessee, I too was puzzled. I remember one time walking out of church shaking my head at it. Evidently, our rector didn’t choose to elucidate that particular piece of Scripture that day. Perhaps he should have.

What Christ says here is both simple and profound, as always. As the second member of the Trinity, Christ always speaks to us in ways we can understand, while also speaking of things beyond our natural understanding; that is, absent the illumination of the Holy Spirit.

This is one of those sayings. On the surface, we understand, especially with the aid of 2000 years of Christian tradition behind us. That is, we have the Word of God to inform us that Christ did indeed die and was buried. Thus, “a little while and you will not see me.” We also understand the part where he says, “and again, a little while, and ye shall see me:”

Obviously, this is in reference to His post-resurrection appearances. First, he appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, then to the gathered disciples who were assembled for fear of the Jews”, in a locked room , and to the disciples while fishing in John 21. Finally as St. Paul tells us in 1st Corinthians 15:6, “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once;”

No doubt the disciples’ joy was immense. Christ even compares to the joy and relief a woman feels after the agony of childbirth. The disciples’ joy was to be similar, so great and real that they would forget the pain and grief they knew when Christ was parted from them. One of them, John, felt this pain most acutely because he, Mary the mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdeline witnessed his death at the foot of the Cross.

Thus far, we understand the meaning of these words. Yet, in the next statement, Christ throws his disciples into confusion because he says, “ because I go to the Father.” This is what really bothered them. It stuck “in their craw”, so to speak, to use a country colloquialism.

As well it might in ours, if we didn’t have the historic Christian experience and calendar to guide us. In His last, most puzzling statement, Jesus is telling about His last mighty act in this world. He is, in fact, foreshadowing the glorious completion of the earthly ministry.

This final act is the completion of Christ’s ministry, as he ascends to the Father, returning back to the Glory from whence He came, some thirty-three years ago. The final act we will celebrate on June 2nd, better known as Ascension Day, which is one of those important, but usually inconvenient and sparsely-attended mid-week services.

Ascension marks the final act of Christ’s life in all its major scenes, including his Immaculate Conception, His humble Nativity, His daily Ministry, His woeful Passion, His glorious Resurrection, and finally, His Dazzling Ascension. The Ascension marked the final chapter in the earthly saga of the Christ on Earth.


We will speak more on the importance of Ascension later, when we celebrate the Day itself. Suffice it to say that its importance is immense, as well as the immense amount of neglect it receives. However, one point must be mentioned, namely that without the Ascension, our exaltation into Heaven would be impossible as the family of Man. Thus, Jesus, on His way to the ultimate exaltation in Heaven as He rejoins His Father in unspeakable splendor, came to visit and reassure us. When He does come out of the grave in glorious resurrection form, both showing Himself and enjoying fellowship with His disciples, he tells them that ” your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.”

This statement is most profound and poignant, simultaneously. The reason for this profound sense of joy comes from Christ’s earlier mention of the expediency of His going away in verse 7 of this same chapter. Christ is going away, yes; Christ is leaving His disciples in bodily form, yes, but Someone else is coming. Following on the heels of Ascension is that great New Testament celebration of the coming of the Holy Ghost, or as the Authorized Version calls him, the Comforter. The Third Person of the Holy Trinity comes to us, to lead, guide, instruct, comfort and strengthen us.

Thus, this is an amazing time of year. Perhaps the historic church calendar truly captures the fullness of the Christian faith as we celebrate Ascension first, honoring the Son, then Whitsunday (Pentecost), where we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, then finally Trinity Sunday, where all three members of the Holy Trinity are celebrated together. We sing and worship the fullness of the Three Persons of God: one being in three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
Truly, if one is living one’s life in accordance with the Church year, this is amazing and most fulfilling.

Returning to one theme we can seize for the day, it might very well be that of Joy. Jesus said that our joy ..”no man taketh from you.” So we hope it is for you. When one considers the sheer enormity of what Christ accomplished for us, our joy should be full. When one considers the durability of our forgiveness and the permanence of our salvation, our joy should be full.
What does this mean? Simply that when Christ forgives us our sins, they are remembered no more. There is no sneaking, half-remembrance of what we did in the past. It is covered with the precious Blood of Christ in complete forgiveness. Simply said, God remembers no sin for which one exhibits true repentance and amendment of life. Surely this is an occasion for joy, as well as immense thanksgiving.

Our joy, which no man can take from us, must stem from another source as well. While this may seem incredibly obvious, it stems from the fact that we Christians even have a God like our God. Unlike what the Existentialists may have once believe, we don’t stumble, Godot-like, through our lives. We don’t face the Universe alone and un-befriended. We don’t have to make those brave existential decisions to prove that we are. With all due respect to Camus and Sartre, theirs was a unnecessarily lonely and erroneous position as to the orientation of Man. We are not alone. We are not lonely, in the recesses of our soul, unless we want to be, or have allowed the deceptions of the Devil to convince us so. For the spirit-filled Christian, is just the reverse. Our position, the Christian position, is completely opposite the sterile, sad and hopeless state of the atheistic humanist or existentialist. We are not filled with the sad darkness of the deceived, we are full of light. We are not aching with loneliness in a dead universe, vainly searching for meaning from a cold and passionless void. We are filled with the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, who brings us into full relationship with God the Father and God the Holy Ghost. We are not sad and depressed as we try to fill our emptiness with counterfeit or fabricated experiences. We have the real experience of Christ in our hearts, our minds, and our souls as we move forward to our eternal Home with Him.

We Christians can’t claim to have cornered the market on joy. That would be absurd and even a bit egotistical, perhaps. After all, many things in this life can give us joy. There is a difference, however, between true Christian joy and that of the World. Whereas joy from things in this life is fleeting and transient, only the joy in Christ can withstand the test of time. There is a joy which no man can take from you. It is the same joy that Christ promised to His disciples so long ago. It is the same joy available to us today.

John 16:22 22 And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you.

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

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.”