Follow by Email

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Abounding in Grace

Abounding in Grace
14th Sunday after Trinity, 2011

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
September 25, 2011

Good Morning! May God’s richest grace be on you all today…

Consider these two verses from our Second Lesson:
Philippians 4:4: “ Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice”, and
Philippians 4:12:“I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

Here we have two blessed and uplifting verses from one of St. Paul’s later epistles. Philippians, written late in his ministry, actually was penned while St. Paul was waiting to be brought before the Emperor Nero the second time. We know from Acts that St. Paul was arrested after having been the center of an uproar in Jerusalem. He sent unto Festus under heavy guard because of the threat of an ambush by Jewish zealots seeking his death. The chain of events that led up to his house arrest in Rome unfolded as Paul testified before Festus at the end of the Book of Acts. Recall that Porcius Festus was the Roman procurator in Judea from A.D. 58-62.

St. Paul appeared before Festus several times before it seemed imminent that he would be sent back to Jerusalem for trial. This extradition to Jerusalem he avoided by exercising his right as a Roman citizen to appeal to Caesar. Ironically, by this time, he had almost persuaded Festus to become a Christian and would, in Festus’ own words, have been set at liberty if he had not appealed to Caesar. Of course, we know that Paul’s trip to Rome was critical to the growth of Christianity. Thus, in God’s perfect Will, it happened. Festus had no alternative but to transfer his case to Rome, but he brought him to Agrippa II in order to help him understand how to charge Paul.

Paul appeared before Nero twice. The first appearance occurred during his first imprisonment recorded in the Book of Acts, of which we just spoke. Three of Paul’s epistles, the so-called “prison epistles”, which are Colossians, Ephesians and Philemon, were most likely written during this imprisonment. The dating of Philippians is uncertain, but the Church is reasonably certain that it was also written during the between the first and second appearances.

His first trial must have ended in acquittal, for after the period in Rome, Paul is again traveling and preaching. During this time, he would write the Pastoral Epistles and ponder a missionary journey to Spain. He would eventually appear before Nero the second time, and according to Christian tradition, be sentenced to death. According to one source, Paul was arrested in Rome, late in Nero’s reign. We really don’t know for sure, as St. Paul’s death is not recorded in the Bible or any contemporary history. Yet, we do have the tradition of the Church. Here are several items about his martyrdom, according to one source, The Catholic Encyclopedia:

• Paul suffered martyrdom near Rome at a place called Aquae Salviae (now Tre Fontane), somewhat east of the Ostian Way, about two miles from the splendid Basilica of San Paolo fuori le mura which marks his burial place.
• The martyrdom took place towards the end of the reign of Nero, in the twelfth year (St. Epiphanius), the thirteenth (Euthalius), or the fourteenth (St. Jerome).
• According to the most common opinion, Paul suffered in the same year and on the same day as Peter; several Latin Fathers contend that it was on the same day but not in the same year; the oldest witness, St. Dionysius the Corinthian, says only kata ton auton kairon, which may be translated "at the same time" or "about the same time".
• From time immemorial in the Roman Church, the solemnity of the Apostles Peter and Paul has been celebrated on June 29, which is the anniversary either of their death or of the translation of their relics.

We Anglicans celebrate the Conversion of St. Paul on January 25 and celebrate St. Peter’s day on June 29.

In Philippians, we sense both the maturity of Paul’s ministry and that of his own personal faith. He begins this section of Philippians with the ringing statement, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” Aside from being one of the most uplifting statements in the NT, it is also one of the most profound. Why? Simply because if one such as St. Paul can say this is his current circumstances, what should we do? Here was a man who had been beaten with rods, lashed repeatedly, stoned, and even shipwrecked in the course of his ministry. He was now awaiting trial before an insane, tyrannical despot who was known to systematically purge those suspected to be plotting against him. In these circumstances, he tells his reader, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”

The message is plain: rejoice and give thanks for all of your life, no matter what your external circumstances might be. Let the joy of Christ overshadow your life and never, never, give in to Satanic despair. If Paul can say it, despite his circumstances, cannot we do the same? If we accept the imponderable Mind of God in all things, we know that even our negative circumstances occur for a reason and in some way glorify God. The why and how are beyond us.

St. Paul continues in Philippians 4:5:”Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand.” One translation has it as: “Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.” As a parallel source, St. James echoes this concept of the forbearing spirit as he tells us about bridling of the tongue,” ¶ If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain.” One source mentions, “Bridling the tongue is a hallmark of spiritual maturity. It is a moment by moment battle in the heart for a sanctification that is so whole-person that even the grace of our Lord Jesus is manifested through our tongues.” Thus, when St. Paul exhorts us, we see the mind of mature Christian pastor telling us, in short, to be ruled by the Holy Spirit and to let Him give us a forebearing spirit within. It is a wonderful prayer.

Similar to the forebearing spirit of which St. Paul speaks is his sense of contentment, which is marked by these words: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

In this specific case, as we see later in the same chapter of Philippians, Paul is speaking of the monetary support he has received from the church. He commends them for sending it, yet gently and tenderly upbraids them at the same time as he mentions that in the past they were mindful of his need, but “lacked opportunity” to fulfill it. This was tactful indeed.

Then to put both a temporal and spiritual point on it, St. Paul says he does not write out of need or lack, because he has learned to be content, regardless of his physical circumstances. He tells us: “I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: everywhere and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need.”

Matthew Henry tells us that Paul was not profligate, nor did he live in a high manner, but survived financially both by working at his family’s tent making trade and from the occasional financial support offered by the churches under his care.

His point is this, and perhaps from time to time we all need to hear it. Contentment, true contentment, does not come from our material possessions, although, of course, they do enhance the quality of our lives. Yet, consider the many, many people in this world who have everything they desire physically, but are empty spiritually. Again, there is nothing wrong with material abundance, as long as it is accompanied by spiritual abundance as well. In the end, our spiritual state really determines our sense of joy, peace, and happiness anyway. Thus, St. Paul can tell us that in whatever state he finds himself, he is content. If we recall his statement from I Corinthians 9:25, it tends to put our earthly pursuit in better perspective: “And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.”

Once again, material and physical abundance is a good and worthy gift from our God. There is no doubt about that. Yet, it is just as important, even more so, that we lay the proper spiritual foundation that will undergird all of our lives, thus ensuring that in whatsoever state we are in, therewith we can be content.

The question remains, how does one do this? How does one find the contentment, the joy and the peace, despite one’s circumstances? In short, in our material world, how is this possible?

The answer lies in a verse that many Christians have memorized, from Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” No doubt, many of us, when in difficult or trying situations, have said this to ourselves. I know that I have, many times in my life and will do so again, many, many more times.

There is a supernatural strength that is available to us. When we say “supernatural”, we don’t mean the creepy, ghostly, or even black magical kind of help. No, that is against the very tenets of our faith. What we do mean is that we as Christians have access to a power that is both unimaginable and unavailable to those who don’t know Christ. As Christians, we have been promised the aid of the Helper or the Paraclete, who is the Holy Spirit. We are never alone, nor are we ever without succor. We are never desolate, nor are we forsaken. We are never poor, although our worldly sums may be low. We have access to the power and grace of Almighty God whenever and wherever we may be. Finally, we have access to a sense of joy and peace that is simply this: “And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

This is our journey and our quest. It is one that will not fail to yield the fruits of peace, joy, love, and ultimate victory.

Philippians 4:6 "Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Faith and Promise

13th Sunday in Trinity 2011
“Faith and Promise”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
September 18th, 2011

Consider these two statements from our Epistle selection for the day: (Galatians 3:16: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made”, and (Gal 3:26) “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”

These statements deal with two central and critical areas of belief for the Christian. Taken from the 3rd chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, they bring forth his thoughts concerning the dramatic tension between law and promise. One could put it another way: the contrast of works versus faith. You’ll recall that last week’s Epistle for the 12th Sunday in Trinity, from 2 Cor. 3, dealt with the same theme as the Apostle Paul spoke of how the letter of the law kills, but the Spirit brings life.

Today, St. Paul speaks to us again on the “tension” between law and promise. The promise of which he speaks was that which God made with Abram, soon to be Abraham, which means “Father of nations.” In Genesis 22:18, we hear the voice of God telling speaking to Abram: 18 "And in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice." Of course, we know this promise to be true, for indeed Abraham did become the Patriarch of Israel, and also of the Arabic peoples through Ishmael. Thus, Islam traces its roots to him as well. What an interesting web of genealogy our world is! As an aside, recall that all the peoples of the earth can be traced in some way to one of the three sons of Noah: Ham, Shem, and Japeth. The Hamites were the forerunners of the African peoples and the Shemites (Semites) settled in the Middle East. According to one source, the son of Japeth became ”the father of the Indo-European peoples, those stretching from India to the shores of Western Europe. They are each linked by linguistic similarities that may seem invisible to the layman but are more obvious to the linguist. He was also the ancestor of much of Asia and the Americas including some of the Pacific.”

Thus, God preserved the people of the earth through Noah, and then made covenant with Abraham to bless all the people upon earth. Of great interest, the promise made to Abraham St. Paul says, was based, not on obedience to the Law of Moses, which came four hundred and thirty years after Abraham, but on faith. In Romans, 4:3, Paul tells us: “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” Similarly, in Gal. 3:18, Paul says: “For if the inheritance be of the law, it is no more of promise: but God gave it to Abraham by promise.”

What is St. Paul saying to us? Is it that if we could achieve righteousness by the law, there would be no more need of promise or inheritance? Perhaps. Yet, in verse 19, Paul seems to comment on this quandary by saying:
(Gal 3:19) “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.”

Thus the law was given to man, not to help him achieve righteousness, but because of man’s sinfulness (his transgressions). Perhaps it served as a means to show man’s need for God. But wait, isn’t it possible for man to educate himself into righteous behavior? Isn’t it possible to “learn” to be good? Once again, St. Paul has an answer:
(Gal 3:21-22) “Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.”

What, then is the purpose of the Law? Could it be this:
(Gal 3:23-26) “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.”

Finally, in verse 28, we have that wonderful and hopeful statement:
(Gal 3:28) “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

By the way, this is a favorite verse of those who favor “inclusion” in the Church for whatever heterodox agenda they are espousing. Unfortunately, this is a grievous abuse of the text, taking it totally out of context. St. Paul is not speaking of inclusion of whatever modernist “axe” we want to grind, but of the glorious inclusion in righteousness and of the imputed justification in Christ Jesus. You see, the glory of Christianity is not that we are all perfect people, following all the rules of our faith and enjoying God’s favor because of our behavior.
Rather, despite of what we are and how we act, God has declared us righteous in His sight through Jesus Christ. This is called forensic justification. The term “forensic”, you will recall, according to Webster, means “belonging to, used in, or suitable to courts of judicature or to public discussion and debate.”

What this means to us is that in the high court of Heaven we have already been declared “not guilty” because of Jesus Christ. In fact, Christ is, at once, our judge and our defense attorney. He is the “mediator” that St. Paul talked about in today’s epistle. This is the promise of which St. Paul speaks.

This is difficult for most of us to accept. The fact that we are to be judged by the very One who died for us is a little bit much for most humans. Somewhere, deep in our souls, we want to cling to a little bit of self justification, just a wee bit of “us” that we can hold up to God and use in our defense.

To this feeble attempt at self-justification, one only has to turn to Christ’s words, out of His own Mouth. Christ’s answer to the rich young ruler is very telling here. Recall this was he who ran to Christ and asked, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” Christ said to him:
(Mat 19:17) “Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.”

In light of what we’ve just talked about, this may seem incongruous, but Christ is merely testing the young man, who exclaims that he has kept all of the commandments Jesus quotes from his youth. Then, Christ lays the bombshell, as he tells the rich young ruler that if he will be perfect, all he has to do is to sell all that he has, give it to the poor, and come follow Jesus. At this critical juncture, the young man’s self justification falls apart, as the Scripture says,
(Mat 19:22) “But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.”
Christ then tells his disciples how difficult it will be for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, even as difficult as a camel to go through the eye of a needle.
As his astonished disciples ask, “Who then can be saved”, Matthew tells us,
(Mat 19:26) “But Jesus beheld them, and said unto them, With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”

All the time, Christ was leading the discussion back to Himself. The point is clear, men can’t justify themselves before God, because at some point, Man’s own humanity gets in the way. We usually find something to love more than God, and frankly, it is usually ourselves.

Yet, God loves us more than we do. Our love for ourselves is not perfect; rather, it usually takes some sort of “twist”, given our fallen natures. If we are capable of loving ourselves, it is never the perfect, complete love of God, but has some defect in it in some way. You see, perfect love has our best interest in mind, whereas self-love is colored by too many aspects of our fallen-ness. When one can truly love oneself through Christ, then one is growing in the love of God. It is only by loving Christ that we can love ourselves. That is, only by having fellowship with Love itself can we reflect that perfect love back on ourselves, and ultimately to others.

We are Abraham’s spiritual children, forever blessed through Jesus Christ.
In God’s almighty Mercy, it was always His plan to include us Gentiles through Christ.
As the Psalmist says:
(Psa 145:3) “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable.”

I must ask, do you want to the child of promise, or the child of law? Do you want to enjoy the blessed inheritance of Christ Jesus, both as a son (daughter) and heir? Do you want to hear those blessed words, “Come beloved of the Lord; come and enjoy the Kingdom created for you from the foundation of the world?”

Or, do you want to be children of the law, subject to its severity, knowing full well that you cannot meet its impossibly high standards? As St. Paul tells us in:
Rom 2:12: “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;”

When I hear this fearful statement, all I can exclaim is “Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ!” We, in the Church, will NOT be judged by the law. We, although we have sinned, are sinners, and continue to sin, will be saved by the gracious promise of Christ. As we seek God’s face through humble prayer and repentance, receiving the blessing of absolution through grace, and being fed by His most gracious Body and Blood in holy worship, we will not fail to achieve justification in His Sight. After all, it is not we that do it, but our Blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Through Him and in Him, we have complete confidence in victorious salvation.

This is the blessing of Abraham on us. This is the promise of God through faith in Jesus Christ, now and forever.

(Gal 3:26) For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9-11, Spirit, and the Law

12th Sunday in Trinity 2011
9-11, Spirit and the Law
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
September 11, 2011

Today, we commemorate the worst attack on American citizens, on American soil in our history. We remember those, both civilian and governmental, who lost their lives in these most brutal, calculating, and devilishly ingenious series of attacks. The death toll for 9-11 even surpasses “the day that will live in infamy”, to quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as he addressed the nation about the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The biggest difference, of course, is that the Japanese directed their attack against our Navy, while the jihadists purposely targeted civilians, with the express purpose of creating terror.

As many of you know, your vicar was a first-hand witness to the scene in New York City. It was my second day of training at the home office of Paine Webber, a now-defunct brokerage firm. This old Wall St. name, like so many others, was acquired and absorbed by a huge bank, this one of Swiss origin. On that day, luckily, we were safely ensconced across the Hudson River in New Jersey, yet with a panoramic view of Lower Manhattan from Paine Webber’s headquarters. We watched as flames sprouted from the Twin Towers. Later, we learned that an airplane had struck the North Tower. When the second plane struck the South Tower, we learned that it was a vicious act of terrorism. A little later that morning, we learned that another plane had flown into the Pentagon. At the same time, we learned that yet another plane had gone down in Pennsylvania. Were it not for the heroic self-sacrifice of the passengers aboard that plane, the White House or the Capitol Building might have been the next target. Make no mistake, this was an attack fueled by infernal genius and hatred of the most extreme level. These series of events were simply incredible.

The question is what kind of spirit makes one do such things as these? How is it possible that a religion, or a philosophy can foster an act so extreme and so violent? Better said, what is the mindset that could conceive and execute such an act?

It is impossible to comprehend such a subject in a brief address. One could, we suppose, write entire books on it. Yet, let us capture the essence: while those of us in this room believe that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, there are many who don’t. While we believe in the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost, One God, there are many who don’t. Yet, we Christians, in this stage of Christianity’s earthly witness, generally don’t kill those who disagree with us. We pray for those who do not believe, but Christians don’t wage wars over belief any more.

There were times when this was not true, as we are all well aware. The Crusades were a great exception. This titanic struggle is still remembered in many Middle Eastern areas and stories are still told about it today! Yet, while some historians tend to blame Christianity for an aggressive war against the Turks, one must recall that the whole struggle began as the West responded to Islam’s capture of Christian sites in the Holy Land, including Jerusalem. It started as a war to free the Holy Land, which was successful initially, but grew corrupt as many Europeans desired to establish their own kingdoms in Palestine. The motive for many changed from freedom for Christianity to earthly gain. In time, the forces of Islam succeeded in driving out these various kings and solidifying their hold over the entire area.

We know that other violent and cruel acts have occurred in Christianity as well. Recall the horrific scene when Charlemagne executed 500 Saxon men in one day. They refused to desert their pagan religion and convert to Christianity after being defeated in battle. He supposedly said that their deaths were not murder, since they were all going to Hell anyway….

Sadly of all, some of the worst acts of Christian warfare and violence usually feature Christian versus Christian. We remember the atrocious acts done in the name of Christ in the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, i.e. the days of “Bloody Mary”, the Spanish Inquisition, and on and on.

These are blots against Christianity, to be sure. They are reasons why many of the intellectual “elite” turn from it. One must accept sadly, the fact that any endeavor, enterprise, or organization with humans in it will necessarily be a mixed bag.

Answers to our initial question about the mindset or orientation that could foster such unspeakable acts must include two questions: 1. Do you believe in eternal salvation or an afterlife, and 2.What must you do to obtain it? One’s response to these two questions is critical to one’s actions in life.

As to the first question, we have no doubt but as to a positive response of 100% from all of us. Otherwise, why are we here? Suffice it to say that our enemies also believe in an afterlife, yet one that is distinctly different from ours.

Now, let us delve into the meat of the matter. The second question, what must one does to obtain an afterlife, determines how one acts here on earth. It is the same dichotomy St. Paul speaks of when he illustrates one of the great internal tensions in Christianity, that of faith vs. works. In other words, do we save ourselves through what we do, or is there another path to salvation? The men who planned and acted out the events of 9-11 believed with all their hearts they were doing what they should be doing. They were slaying their enemies and creating terror in a land that thought of as evil. The letter of their law says that those who disagree with them must be destroyed and their way of life must be obliterated, just as the Twin Towers were obliterated.

Thus, if the letter of the law motivates a radical jihadist to fly a plane into a building, in order to seek a satisfactory afterlife, what can we conclude about religious legalism? Is it not as St. Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 3:6 “for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life”? If we concentrate on keeping the letter of the law to the exclusion of God’s Grace, where will we be? The point St. Paul is striving to make here is that there are two ways in which men can approach God. One way is the cold, legalistic, ritualistic obedience to a code. The other is the transformational, life-giving Spirit of the living God, conquering and enrapturing the human heart.

In the Epistle selection, St. Paul takes the discussion of grace and works away from what we do to what God does in us. It is not what we, in our supposed righteousness, do to please God, for this is impossible. Paul just told us that “the letter (of the law) kills, but the Spirit gives life.” All the Law could do was condemn, in effect pointing the accusing finger at man’s various foibles and sins, whereas the Spirit of God in Christ holds out the possibility of change, of conversion, of blessed transformation from a hideous fallen creature to a glorious son or daughter of God.

So we see that the Law merely pinpointed the sinfulness of man; it could not heal. It could only accuse. It’s like the supposed “comforting” of Job’s friends, when all they actually did was to accuse him and try to get him to confess some secret sin, for which they assumed he was being punished.

The Law, which was ordained to Life, became that of death to Man, because it could only expose and not heal. This is opposed, gloriously, by the Spirit of Christ, which has the power to bring to light our sins and has the power to heal our brokenness and our spiritual morbidity through the power of grace.

This, of course, is the point that Paul wants to write on the fleshy tablets of our hearts. He asks if the old Law, which focused on condemnation, was so glorious that Moses had to veil his face, how much more glorious is the “ministry of righteousness” that comes from the spirit of Christ? On the one hand, is the Law, our “school master” in righteousness; on the other hand is the Holy Spirit, which is the fulfillment in Christ.

It really comes down to a simple, yet difficult choice for us. Although drawn by God’s Grace, we still must choose our approach to God. We can, still, attempt to save ourselves through works, or we can accept the grace of the Spirit offered to us. We can embrace our humanity as the center of our universe, or we can embrace the One whose universe it is. The former approach is always prone to failure, while the latter approach is absolutely certain of success.

I pray that all of us, today, begin the wonderful work of daily surrendering of our souls to God in holy worship, for it is in worship that we realize our relationship to our glorious triune God. Also, I pray that our reception of the Holy Sacrament today marks a new beginning in our journey in grace, for our worthy reception of it is indeed a very tangible means of grace. As we receive today, let us all remember those souls lost to us on September 111, 2001.

(2Co 3:6) “Who also has made us able ministers of the new covenant; not of the letter, but of the spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit makes alive.”

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Righteous or Self-Righteous?

Righteous or Self-Righteous?

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
11th Sunday after Trinity, 2011

Sept. 4, 2011

Today’s Gospel focuses one of great problems that “good” people often face: the self-awareness of their own goodness. Sometimes, when we have been living in covenant, doing what we should, and perhaps receiving blessings from God, we may be in serious spiritual danger. That is, when we are striving to be righteous, striving to be “good” in the eyes of God, that very activity may be dangerous to us if we take knowledge of it. The reason may be that self-conscious righteous activity can lead to pride, and we know our Adversary below is always more than ready to exploit any advantage, especially one where spiritual pride is involved.

An apt analogy may be when one meets the truly physically beautiful, charming, or intelligent person who is not really aware of their great attributes. Sometimes, they do not regard them and may even disparage themselves, being humble. Contrast this with the great majority of celebrities, particularly those on the stage or in the movies, who are so self-aware of the “great I” they have become that they are totally self-absorbed or who are in a state of complete egoism. What a difference there is!

In today’s Gospel, Our Lord draws a perfect contrast “to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others” by drawing a wonderful word picture of a Pharisee and a Publican. The Pharisees were often the objects of Christ’s scorn and usually were the example of what “not” to be, with the notable examples of Nicodemus and certain others, unnamed, who secretly believed in our Christ. Yet, in fairness, we must recall the origin of the Pharisees. These men arose to defend Judah and Israel from the gross idolatry that had brought so much suffering. Remember how the Jews fell into such a state of “mixed” belief that even their pagan statues populated the very Temple itself. Refer to Ezekiel 8:8-12 for that and recall how that Ezekiel was commanded to dig in the Temple wall. He did as commanded, found a door and went it.
There he saw all sorts of abominable pagan idols, as well as seventy members of the oldest families of Israel offering incense to pagan Gods! Recall how God, in His longsuffering and mercy, sent prophet after prophet to call His People back into repentance, yet they would not. After literally hundreds of years of warning, God finally executed judgment on Judah, when Nebuchadnezzar’s armies came up against Jerusalem. Even in this last state, Jeremiah warned the people to submit to the yoke of Babylon and live, even if it meant a state of servitude. Had Judah done this, even Nebuchadnezzar would have turned his fierce wrath and accepted their repentance. Instead, the Jews under Zedekiah refused, even trying to flee the siege of Jerusalem through a break in the city wall. This failed, and Zedekiah saw his sons slain before his very eyes. He was blinded and taken to Babylon as one of many captive kings. The Babylonians proceeded to destroy Jerusalem, including the fabulous Temple of Solomon, which was considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was a sad story of the apostasy of the ancient Jews and its results.

Much later, under the reign of Artaxerxes the Persian and then Darius the Mede, Jerusalem’s wall and Temple would be rebuilt, as related in the books of Nehemiah and Ezra. Although it was indeed glorious to have the Temple in Jerusalem again, it was nowhere near the grandeur of the former temple, nor could it have been. Later, Jerusalem would be savaged again by the Greeks, until Judas Maccabeus and his sons led a successful revolt against the Hellenization of Judah. It was during this period that the Pharisees arose, men so zealous for the Law and for the purity of Jewish belief. Their calling was to safeguard Jewish society from the evils of heterodoxy, so that the suffering brought on by idolatry could never happen again.

It was a worthy goal. Yet, like all things human, when they lack the guiding Spirit of God, Phariseeism became twisted and self-centered. They Jews sought righteousness through their own deeds and their interpretation of the Law, thus they thought, ensuring, even requiring God’s favor towards the nation of Israel. Their religion became show without substance, mere mechanistic practice without faith or belief. Hypocrisy and outward show became the norm, to a large extent.

That brings us to the Gospel selection for the day. Christ clearly draws a contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee and the humble, penitent publican. Thus, Our Lord draws a fascinating parallel illustrating appearances versus reality. We see the Pharisee, dressed in his long robe, no doubt with dangling phylacteries and all, standing and praying to himself. Some commentators have observed that this “prayer” is not really a prayer at all, but rather an “address” to God The Pharisee proceeds to list his righteous acts and behavior before God, rehearsing them, if you will, almost to demand God’s favor and justification. He gives tithes of all that he possesses, he fasts twice weekly; he is, by all accounts a righteous man. There is a problem, however; he knows it; he accepts it consciously. While he does do good deeds, actions worthy of praise, his attitude of self-righteousness serves to “poison the well”, so to speak. Thus, he brandishes his righteousness before man and God, fully confident that he is seen as such before both.

Then, Our Lord tells us of the publican. As we have discussed before, here is a man who was universally despised as both a tool of the Roman occupiers and as an extortioner. Recall that publicans, or tax collectors, were self-employed contractors, Jews, employed the Roman state to levy and collect Roman taxes. They were on a percentage compensation basis, meaning that any amount that they able to collect above their quota was theirs. Was it any wonder they usually asked for and received more than what was due? Was it any wonder that they were hated, not only as symbols and tools of the Roman occupation, but also for taking advantage of their position to extort as much money from the captive nation? No one likes to pay taxes, but to pay more than one owes is especially bad. Thus publicans were corrupt collaborators with the Roman occupiers and were roundly hated for it.

This may be why another Publican, ”short of stature” Zacchaeus, in Luke 19:8, said that he would restore four-fold to anyone from whom he had over-collected when Christ told him that He must stay with him that day. This act of repentance on Zacchaeus’ part prompted this wonderful statement from Jesus in Luke 19:9-10 “And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

Thus, Christ, the great Teacher uses the seemingly incongruous example of the publican to great effect as we see the publican’s behavior in the temple from today’s Gospel. He stood “afar off”, not even daring to lift up his eyes to heaven. Instead, he looked down and “smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” The contrast between him and the Pharisee couldn’t be clearer.

The point of the parable comes through very clearly when Christ says: (Luke 18:14) “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." We know this by conventional wisdom, in sayings such as “Pride goeth before a fall”. This adage is taken from Proverbs 16:18-19: ”Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”

According to Christ’s words, the humble publican was justified before God, while the Pharisee was rejected. His supposed righteousness meant nothing, while the penitent publican, despised by men, was favored by God. Of course, there is a great lesson in this for us. We Anglicans, with our beautiful music and liturgy, our excellent lectionary and our wonderful Book of Common Prayer, may be liable to fall into such a spiritual trap, if we are not vigilant. When one has so much goodness, the temptation may arise to look down on those of other traditions.
We in the clergy also must also guard against spiritual pride as well, precisely because we have been so blessed with the Apostolic Succession and the historic episcopate.

Anglicans do have a lot of advantages; unfortunately, sometimes we may be a bit too aware of them, rather than accepting these blessings from God in an humble and contrite spirit, like the publican.

Anglicans in general have always had a rationalistic bent, that is, we celebrate the mind as a means to worship God, as well as the emotions and the working of the Spirit. Yet, this same celebration of the intellect can very easily lead to pride and all its incumbent evils. The end result may be a conviction that God’s Will for us is an “evolving” process, rather than what has been revealed to us in His Word and the traditions of the Church. As the Bishops of GAFCON have stated, this has led many in the Anglican Communion to proclaim “another Gospel”, one clearly at odds with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This “new Gospel” is one in which many aberrations of Christian behavior are embraced and are seen as merely a “lifestyle choice.” Thank God for those good and worthy bishops who are calling the Anglican Communion back to contrition and repentance!

The lesson to us is plain: we rely, not on our own righteousness, but that of Jesus Christ. As Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.”

When we, like the Pharisee, depend on our own works for justification, or feel pride in our goodness, or indulge in self-righteousness, we run the risk of being rejected by God. Yet, when like the publican, we approach God in a lowly and humble spirit, relying only on the merits of Jesus Christ, we will have eternal justification and redemption.

For this, we say: Thanks be to God!

Luke 18:14 4 "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

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