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Friday, November 25, 2011

Covenant and Prophecy

“Covenant and Prophecy…”
1st Sunday in Advent, 2011

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Nov. 27th, 2011


Happy New Year, Christians! We bid you welcome to another new church year. This is the beginning of our annual earthly re-birth, our spiritual reawakening in Christ. Last Sunday, we head of the prophecy of the Messiah, “the Righteous Branch” who will bring salvation to all mankind. Recall that Jeremiah told us of the One who would save Israel from its sins. Recall that He would be the one to lead us to righteousness and peace.

Would it be so. Would it be so that the whole Earth would blossom forth with the Spirit of God! Would it be so that the whole Earth would break forth into song of the glories of the Lord as it proclaims another year in Christ. Why? Because this is Advent… this is the time that orthodox Christians praise their King and Creator, Jesus Christ. We recognize that this is the time to celebrate the coming of "Once and Future King", to borrow a phrase from T. H. White.

Last week, we spoke of our witness to the cycle of salvation, as mirrored in the Church Year. We spoke of how the panoply of man’s deliverance from eternal death and sin is recounted year after year, from prophecy to fulfillment. And so it is. So, welcome Christians to the opening act of mankind’s drama of deliverance. Welcome to Advent 2011!

Our Old Testament Lesson for the day is, to my mind, one of more fascinating and instructive passages in Genesis, although there are many. In it, we see a clear picture of the principle of Covenant. We see both the positive and negative sides of living in covenant with Almighty God. In other words, just as Moses would later tell the children of Israel in the book of Deuteronomy, when one lives in covenant with God, one will receive either blessings or cursings, depending on one’s behavior, actions, and attitude. All of this is contained in this little passage from Genesis that we read today.

To recount the scene, Abraham is sitting in his tent door, in the “heat of the day.” He saw three visitors coming towards his camp and he ran to meet them. As Matthew Henry says, “despite his age and gravity”, he ran and did obeisance to them. Obviously, there was something about these three “men”, or beings, that caused him to do this; yet one would like to think that a prosperous and gracious man like Abraham would have offered hospitality to any who came to him.

The Scripture, however, clearly tells us that the LORD visited Abraham that day. Three mysterious strangers suddenly showed up in his camp, and one can’t doubt there was something about them. Since the Word itself says the LORD came to Abraham, we are disposed to consider that this was a visit by the pre-incarnate Christ, accompanied by two angels. This is logical and can be supported by evidence from the text. For example, we read later in Chapter 19 that two angels came to Sodom in the evening, where they met Lot and warned him of the destruction to come. This was the same destruction of which the LORD had told Abraham, most likely earlier in the same day.

Some commentators have speculated these “three men” were actually the Holy Trinity, or a symbolic representation of it. After all, since we are told that the Lord visited Abraham and three figures appeared to him, this could be. It could also be a prefiguring of the Trinity, with Christ and the two angels representing the other two persons. Although this view is attractive to me, personally, I think the view that it was actually Christ and two angels is more likely. At any rate, of one thing we are sure: the LORD did appear unto Abraham.

Another point is that Abraham entertained the visitors courtesy and with honor. This brings to mind St Paul’s statement in Hebrews 13:2”Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” This has always been an interesting and intriguing passage for me because of the sheer mystery of it. It does remind of a road trip I took while in college. Returning to Missouri from Arkansas, where I had gone duck hunting with an old high-school friend, I found myself driving down a picturesque two-land highway. As I topped a hill, there was a young, rather pleasant looking man about my own age walking along the highway, hitchhiking. I pulled over and offered a ride. He accepted and we rode for several miles with very little conversation. He was quiet, even solemn, but in a good way.
It so happened that his stop was right along my route, so I was able to drop him close to where he needed to go. As he left the car, he turned and said, “God Bless you…” I said “Thanks” and drove off. What was curious was the atmosphere inside my car had a wonderful light “feel” to it. As I reflected on it later, I thought it was like St. Paul’s statement in 2Corinthians about Christians being “a sweet savour of Christ.” In short, it was a blessed air in the car. Later that evening, I told my mother about the experience and she said that I may very well have entertained an angel. It was a wonderful and curious experience.

The question remains, however, why did the LORD choose to visit Abraham again? After all, in Genesis 17, he had just appeared to Abraham and made a covenant with him. He told Abraham that Sarah would conceive, even though she was well into menopause, and that he must circumcise all the males in his household, including himself. He also assured Abraham that his first son, Ishmael, would not be abandoned, but would become a great nation.

Abraham was faithful to God and fulfilled his side of the covenant. He circumcised every male, and was himself circumcised when he was ninety years old. He obeyed God’s word and, as a result, received favor from God. In the plains of Mamre, during the second visitation, God again reaffirms Sarah’s coming motherhood, which she overhears. Perhaps it is a natural reaction, or simply astonishment, but she laughed when she heard the words. I don’t think it was a mocking laugh, but one that only a ninety-year-old woman might give when informed that she is about to be pregnant. She is caught in the act, but the Lord merely gently reproves her and moves on to tell Abraham about the fiery destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Here, faithful Abraham has been blessed by God. His wife will conceive and bear him a child to bring him the long-awaited heir. He has also been the confidante, if you will, of God, as God tells what He is going to do regarding the evil cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now contrast this treatment with the coming doom of those satanic places. Those cities, which were so evil, perverted and dark that the cry of them went up into Heaven, were about to suffer the curses, or the negative side of violating covenant with God. Their fate is recorded in Genesis 19, as we read about Lot’s deliverance at the hands of the two angels who hustle him and his family out of the doomed place. Soon, fire from heaven would fall upon them, destroying them utterly.

What, then, is the lesson for us today? If we remember the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 8 for the Thanksgiving service of Morning Prayer, we hear him warning the Israelites of this exact situation. After God has led them into the Promised Land, they will prosper as long as they remain true to Him. If they will praise Him, honor Him, and worship only Him, their prosperity will continue. On the other hand, if they become willful and arrogant, ascribing to themselves
their success, their situation will change. If they forget God, they will incur curses and misfortune. Much like the Sodomites, who so turned to evil that even God could not tolerate it, Israel would violate the covenant, be judged and punished, and then turn back to God for a period. As we well know, this “sin cycle” would be repeated many times until the final destruction of Israel in 70 a.d. at the hands of the Romans. By this time, Christ had already come, ministered, died and rose again to fix the problem of man’s persistent sin. The New Testament era had well begun, and the Old Testament and Intertestimonial periods had been closed. In short, since the coming of Jesus Christ, earth had a new frame of reference on sin, repentance, and eternal salvation.

This Advent, perhaps it is time to re-evaluate our covenant with God, the Holy Trinity. It is a good time to start afresh and examine how much we hold Him first in our hearts, minds and spirits. If we look into our own spiritual treasure houses, do we find them full of the richness and bounty of God’s Grace, or do we find full of our own sinful and self-centered desires and inclinations? In short, do we love God enough to merit the bounty of his grace and love, or better said, do we reciprocate His love to us? After all, in the perfect being of the Almighty, we merit nothing but the curses of the covenant. Yet, through His overwhelming love and mercy towards us, we are able to reflect a little back to Him and to our fellow man. When we do this, we are learning to live in the fullness of God’s Covenant with us.

This Advent season, let us make us a new start. Let it be so. AMEN

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Grace and Peace from God

Grace and peace from God
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Sunday Next before Advent, 2011

Philippians 1:2 2 ¶ Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the Epistle selection for the 22nd Sunday after Trinity, St. Paul bids peace and grace to the congregation at Philippi, both in his own name and that of his traveling companion and mentee, Timotheus. This is, of course, the same Timothy to whom Paul would write two instructive epistles, called “the Pastorals.” Among orthodox Anglicans, these epistles are still used in diaconal exams to this day. As later history would unfold, this same Timothy would become the first bishop of Crete and would help spread the Gospel for years after Paul’s martyrdom in Rome.

Of interest also is mention of two of the Church’s historic orders here, as St. Paul mentions the bishops and deacons in the church at Philippi. This is interesting and as well as instructive, for it shows us clearly that these orders existed in the earliest days of the Church. Sometimes, other branches of Christ’s church yearn to return what they term as the “primitive church”; while at the same time they reject the historic orders of church as Popish or medieval. The figure in the business suit is something they prefer, rather than the historic minister in his alb and chasuble. Perhaps they are still fighting the battles of the Protestant Reformation.

Why, one might ask, is the office of the presbytery, or the priesthood, not mentioned? Simply because that at this time it did not exist. The priesthood did not come into being a little later, when the Church had grown so much that bishops simply could not handle the ministry work load. At the same time, it was not thought prudent to consecrate many, many more bishops just to baptize, celebrate the Eucharist, and to perform other duties considered beyond the diaconate, but not necessarily rising to the level of bishop. The office of priest - our church actually terms it as presbyter- was to do this work of the Church. Thus, the office of priest/presbyter was created.
The reason we mention this is twofold. First, we want to reinforce the validity of clerical orders in the Church, and by so doing, show that we orthodox Christian are striving to the utmost to preserve the Church according to its earliest model. Churches who have cast aside the offices of bishop, deacon, and the later office of priest are doing so to the weakening of their claims to be “primitive” Christians. In saying this, we do not in any way seek to un-church anyone or accuse their witness in any way. Yet, suffice it to say that those bodies that have retained the historic clerical model are actually exactly in line with Scripture. We can also say that those churches, such as the Anglican Communion, who have kept the historic lines of bishop, priest and deacon, have a very desirable and valid form of church polity.

The second reason is to emphasize the orderly nature of our God. As we have said many times, and as all of us have heard many times, we worship a God of order. He is not a God of disorder or confusion or chaos. He is never hurried, hasty, or uncertain. He simply IS. Our God, in His complete serenity, sees eternity at a glance. Better said, He IS eternity. Just as Moses heard from the burning bush, Exodus 3:14: " And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. “

With that thought in mind, let us briefly consider the prefect plan God prepared for the salvation of mankind. Consider the epistle selection from Jeremiah, taken from the lectionary for the Sunday Next before Advent. In it, God speaks through the suffering prophet, Jeremiah In it, God makes a startling statement, so very fitting for this Sunday Next before Advent: Jeremiah 23:5-6: “ Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” In other words, God didn’t just “wake up” one morning and decide that Jesus Christ should leave His glory, take the form of a man, and come save mankind from his sins. Rev. 13:8 speaks of the “…lamb slain from the foundation of the world.". In other words, God had planned for the advent of Christ from the beginning of the world. Seeing eternity at one view, our God knows all things, sees all things, and in a strange and mysterious way, directs all things. This happens all at once in the reality of God.
Thus, in our limited reality, we are experiencing the Sunday Next before Advent. In the church year, we are re-living the spectacle of salvation from its prophetic beginning now to its dramatic conclusion on Easter morning. Consider these words from Jeremiah 23:7-8: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that they shall no more say, The LORD liveth, which brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt; 8 But, The LORD liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land.”

At first glance, these words may seem to have little significance for us. A closer examination shows that they have great, even monumental significance. The first part of the statement says that the people -both the Jews and the redeemed in Christ- will one day not just say that their God lives who brought them out of Egypt. In other words, God is not just the Lord of the Old Testament - the witness of the deliverance from Egypt. He is not just the God of the Law and the Prophets. In the more perfect revelation of God received by the people, they will now affirm that their God will restore them to their own land, from which He had driven them because of their sin. What this means for mankind is God is completely aware of our state of being and of our need for an eternal solution to our problem of recurrent sin. Thus, while the deliverance from our original state of bondage was wonderful, symbolized by the Jew’s deliverance from Egypt, their salvation was not complete. Much later in the Bible we see the complete fall into sin by both Israel and Judah. The Law was not enough, nor was the witness of all the prophets who were sent to warn them from their sin. Something else was needed. This complete and efficacious salvation is symbolized by the people’s worship of God as He restores them to their original land, their own land. This “land” is, of course, is more than the restoration of the Jews to Palestine; it is our eternal home with God and in God. It is that perfect country which we all seek and for which our souls ultimately long for. It is brought about by the Gospel message of the New Testament. Thus, while the first statement glorifies God in the Old Testament witness of deliverance from bondage, the second statement glorifies Him in the New Testament witness of restoration and homecoming.

This begs the question, how will this restoration and homecoming be accomplished? In God’s perfect Mind, it has already been accomplished through the King about whom Jeremiah prophesied: (Jeremiah 23:5-6): 5 ¶ Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth. 6 In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

This is clearly a prophecy of the Messiah, the one who will deliver Israel from her sins and lead her to righteousness. We, who have been “graphed in” to the Tree of Life, to reference Paul’s statement in Romans 11, will be included in the family of God by virtue of our King and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are the children of promise and the lucky recipients of God’s Grace.

This is what we are preparing for this Advent Season. Not for the family gatherings, the presents, the decorations and all the hoopla of the Christmas Season. All of these things occur because we are celebrating the fulfillment of a prophecy uttered some few thousand years ago.
It is a prophecy that came true in the Person of Jesus Christ. It is a prophecy that can come true in our hearts today as we prepare for the Advent season.

Thus, we challenge you to grasp this Advent Season with all of your spiritual strength and hold it close to you. Take from it all of the meaningful inklings of the coming Christmas Season. Discard from it all distracting and ultimately meaningless celebrations that do not honor Christ.
Let this Advent be a time of wonderful preparation and anticipation for the fulfilling of Jeremiah’s prophecy.

If you do that, it will be more than just preparation for another Christmas. It will be a preparation for an eternal Advent, shining forever in our hearts.

Jeremiah 23:6 “In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Truth Faileth

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Twenty First Sunday After Trinity
November 13, 2011

“Truth Faileth”

KJV Isaiah 59:15 Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.

From our Old Testament lesson for the day, the prophet bewails the situation of the times in which he lived. It is both a complete condemnation of the society of Isaiah’s time and a dark portrait of unredeemed human condition. First, the prophet says, “truth fails.” What a concept! Truth FAILS! That is, it had no application or efficacy for the society in which Isaiah lived. This is astounding. Sin had so permeated society that truth was an alien concept. Deception, falsehood and shades of meaning were the norm. Thus, truth failed. The second astounding statement the prophet made was that he who departed from evil in Isaiah’s time made himself a target, a prey for who delighted in so doing. This is a dark picture, indeed.

Considering how our society treats so-called “whistleblowers”, those who point out graft, corruption, or gross ineptitude in high places, this may sound familiar. As you know, for the most part, these people are often destroyed or discredited, because they bring to light evil deeds. Evil, after all, prefers to stay in the dark, where it can do the most damage and enjoy the greatest camouflage.

This ringing condemnation of Isaiah’s society is even more apparent when one considers this passage, which follows immediately afterwards: Isa 59:15-16: (NAS) “Now the LORD saw, And it was displeasing in His sight that there was no justice. 16 And He saw that there was no man, And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;”
The prophet is saying that there was no one who would intercede for righteousness and true religion. At this time in history, Israel and Judah were both corrupt, giving themselves over to the various fertility religions of the Canaanites and to their immoral behaviors. Recall that the Canaanites were the very people that the Lord had declared anathema because of their abominations. Now the Jews were gladly embracing their earth religions and forsaking the Lord who had brought them out of bondage in Egypt. Please note that these base and profane religions considered drinking copious amounts of wine and engaging in immoral acts with temple prostitutes “worship” and pious behavior! This is a very dark picture of fallen human nature.

If this were the end of the story for mankind, it would indeed be a very dark picture. For both Israel and Judah, it would turn out to be tragic. First, the mighty Assyrian Empire consumed Israel and scattered its ten tribes into different parts of its vast territory; this accounted for the so-called “ten lost tribes”. Later, Judah succumbed to the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar following the dreadful siege and near-total destruction of Jerusalem. As prophesied by Jeremiah, the end did come for Jerusalem and the best of the population, those who survived the siege. As related in the Book of Daniel, they were carried off captive to Babylon for 70 years.

Yet, even in judgment, the Lord had mercy on Judah. Mighty Babylon would eventually fall to the Medes under Darius and later, under the edict of Cyrus, the Jewish remnant would rebuild the temple in Jerusalem, as recounted in the book of Ezra.

In Isaiah’s prophecy, the Lord himself will bring this salvation to Judah, as he says,
Isa 59:17 “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.”

Thus, the Lord will rouse Himself to fight for Judah and bring justice to His people.

The prophet says: (Isa 59:18): “According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies; To the coastlands He will make recompense. 19 So they will fear the name of the LORD from the west And His glory from the rising of the sun, For He will come like a rushing stream Which the wind of the LORD drives. 20 "A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob," declares the LORD.”

As is common in Biblical prophecy, we see in the passage both the near future and the far future. Isaiah’s prophetic vision takes in both, as he foretells the near-term deliverance of Judah from Babylon and the coming of the Messiah in the longer term.

The Lord’s mercy is so evident here, as he promises deliverance for Israel, which occurred via the edict of Cyrus and provides for the salvation of the human race by the foretold gift of his only Son.

Our epistle from Eph. 6:10-20 echoes this passage from Isaiah as St. Paul tells us:

“13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, the Apostle Paul evidently had Isaiah in mind as he penned this wonderful passage for the church in Ephesus. It is not only one of my personal favorites, but is one of the more useful and instructive passages in the N.T. It is not mere spiritual “pie in the sky”, but has real constructive value for Christians today. To the world, it is foolishness, but to us, it is truth. Recall that St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 2:14-15: “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. 15 But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one” The world thinks Christianity (true spirituality) is foolishness, yet the Christian in his/her walk with God judges all things.

Thus, the Christian, more so than the unredeemed, carries a realization of his or her dual existence: physical and spiritual, made possible because of the dual nature of mankind.
Recall that in C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the senior tempter, Uncle Screwtape, tells his nephew, the junior tempter Wormwood, that man is a fluid being, with one part rooted firmly in the physical plane, while the other part undulates in the spiritual realm. That is, since one part is physical and one part is spiritual, both physical and spiritual events can influence us. In my humble opinion, the spiritual events may have greater power to affect us than the physical since they have eternal consequences.

St. Paul begins the passage by exhorting us to rely on God and not on ourselves by saying, “My brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might.”

There is a great question inherent in this statement; in whom do we trust? Do we trust in our own power or that of God? The answer to this is rhetorical and can only be answered by each of us in the quiet of our soul. Suffice it to say, however, that in the spiritual realm, absent God, we are in very perilous territory.

The very heart of the matter comes in (Eph 6:12):
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”

If we break this down a bit, we see that the Christian life, while joyous and fulfilled, is one of struggle. In this case, the apostle Paul tells us that we are not “wrestling with flesh and blood”, but with “principalities, with “powers”, the “rulers of the darkness of this world”, “spiritual wickedness in high places.” The World is God’s Creation, and thus inherently good. Yet, at the same time, it is populated with beings who possess free will and who can accept God or reject Him, while simultaneously being affected by the malignity of the Devil, with his temptations, suggestions, influences and the like.

Christian maturity is the key to spiritual survival and health in this fallen world. As one grows in Christ and the Christian experience, one is more aware of the spiritual environment in which one lives.
When a spirit of anger, greed, lust, pettiness, wounded pride, or self-importance assaults a mature Christian, he or she has developed defenses against them. Unlike the carnal man, who is either oblivious to the spiritual forces around him or denies outright that they even exist, the mature Christian has a means to deal with these “principalities”, these “powers”, the “spiritual wickedness in high places”, found in Eph. 6:10-20.

They read, “Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Note the language used here. It is strong; it is fervent. The word used is “stand,” not “sit down in a discussion group” with evil, or “establish a commission” to study evil, but to vigorously stand against it. We do not dally with it, or much less roll over in the face of it, but we strive to “withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

Listen to the words of Martin Luther in his wonderful hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.” Thank God, Praise God, we are not solitary in our defense. We have the “whole armour of God” to protect us. St. Paul again exhorts us to “Stand.” He writes, “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness.”

Thus, we must have our spiritual “loins” wrapped in truth. Now, what is the Truth? How about John 3:16: “So God loved the world, that He gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that all that believe in him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Jesus Christ is Truth incarnate.

After we are girt about with truth, we are put on the breastplate of righteousness, echoing Isaiah 59, and to have our “feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace”. The Lord wants us to walk as peacefully as possible in a fallen world,
“Above all”, says St. Paul, “take the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all of the fiery darts of the wicked.” When doubts, temptations, fears or unwelcome suggestions threaten you, your Christian faith is your shield. Finally, take the “helmet of salvation” to repel the mental assaults which our spiritual Adversary hurls at us. Rev. 12:10 refers to Satan as “the accuser of the brethren” for a very good reason, for he attempts to be very active in our mind and our intellect. Yet, we are not powerless against him. Rather, as James 4:7 tell us: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

St. Paul’s final plea in this wonderful epistle is that prayers be offered for him, that “utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel”. Beloved, we have a part in that. Wearing the armor of God, we are defended against the evils of our day. Filled with the love of Christ, we are ambassadors of the Gospel. Wielding the sword of the Spirit prayerfully, we can, through Christ, bring light to dark situations, give hope to those without hope and “make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”

To do this, it all comes down to one question: in whom do you trust?

KJV Isaiah 59:15 “Yea, truth faileth; and he that departeth from evil maketh himself a prey: and the LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no judgment.”


AMEN

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Marriage Feast of the Lamb

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity (All Saints observed)

October 25th, 2011

“The Marriage Feast of the Lamb”

Matthew 22:2 “The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son,”
Today we are observing the great feast of All Saints. This is perhaps the most all –encompassing feast of the church, simply because it celebrates the inclusion of all of the saints of the Kingdom.

Sometimes people are shocked to learn that they, too, are considered saints. Consider what St. Paul says in Romans 16:15 : ”Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.” Also in 2 Corinthians 1:1 “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:”

With that thought in mind, do we all have the stature in the Kingdom of a St. Theresa, or a St. Paul, or a St. Andrew? Perhaps not. These people are giants in their way and certainly towering figures in the Kingdom of God. Yet, all of us, in some way or another, are called to be saints and to provide a witness to Christ is some way or another.

Yet, despite our failing and our foibles, which are many, we too are called to be saints. All of us are called to be reflectors of the light of Christ; and to so reflect that light as to give credit to our Father, which is in Heaven.
This is reflected in our Gospel lesson for the day, which focuses chiefly on our calling. In today’s Gospel, for example, we see the lesson of calling and of our answer at its most stark and self-centered. We also see Christ at His teaching best. He uses one of the most time-honored teaching methods, use of an analogy, to inform us of certain events that will come to pass. In fact, this analogy is so perfect that Christ and His ministry can be clearly seen throughout it. Yet at the same time, it is a message very well hidden from those not of the household of faith, or said another way, it is not apparent to those who have received the illumination of the Holy Spirit. All of this is caught up in our Gospel for the day.

Allow me to elaborate just a bit. First, we have Christ giving us the statement that the kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king who is giving a marriage feast for his son. This King sends forth his servants to call those invited guests to the wedding and they, we are told, would not come. In fact, “they made light of it.” The same story is also told in Luke, where he tells us “And they all with one consent began to make excuse.” The point is plain: these men were not interested in coming to the King’s Son’s wedding.

This is their response when the King sends other servants to call them. When he is again repulsed, the King is understandably angry for having made the preparations for a grand feast and then having no guests to enjoy it. He instructs his servants to go out and bring in those from “the highways” and to furnish his house with guests. This is done, with both the bad and the good making the guest complement complete. The King comes in to survey the party and he sees a man that does not have on a wedding garment. When asked why he is not wearing the wedding garment, the man is speechless. At this point, the King commands him to be bound and cast into “outer darkness”; that is, oblivion. He ends us this amazing story with the puzzling, yet chilling statement, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Let’s back up for a second and examine this moirĂ© closely. Earlier, we mentioned that this is a perfect analogy, and so it is. We also said it could not be understood and fully appreciated without the benefit of the Holy Spirit; and so it is.

Looking at the various pieces of the story, we find that there is a direct and plain tie-in with Christ and his ministry throughout. First, we must consider who is this King and why is He throwing a wedding feast for His Son? We understand the King’s fury when those invited guests refuse his gracious invitation, but how could He throw a man, whom he compelled to come in, into “outer darkness” because he didn’t have a wedding garment? It just seems terribly unfair, doesn’t it?

Having heard this parable all of my life, I must confess that until I heard a sermon on it some ten years ago, I shared similar feelings of puzzlement and even outrage about it. Yet, when one understands it, it makes perfect sense. So, here we go…

First of all, we all recognize without any difficulty that the King is God Almighty, the Father and Lord of all. He is preparing His Creation for the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, in which all things will be consummated and completed. At this feast, the Creation will be wedded to Christ, just as a bride is wedded to her spouse. In anticipation of this great event, He calls his guests, His Chosen People, to share in the feast. To facilitate this, he sends “servants” to call them. These servants are obviously the various prophets whom God sent to Israel and Judah to call them into repentance and into fellowship with Him. These servants are rejected and the invitation is spurned. In short, God sent His best servants to call His People to the best thing that He has, which is fellowship with Him. He sent to His chosen People, but they would have none of it.

Yet, God being God and infinitely patient, He sent other servants (prophets), only to find that they too, were not accepted. In fact, the Chosen People not only rejected the prophets, they insulted and even killed them! It is at this point that the King has had enough. He exacted judgment and vengeance upon them, sending His armies who “destroy those murderers and burned up their city.” Of course, we know from history and from the Bible that this is exactly what happened to Jerusalem, both at the hands of the Babylonians and the Romans. Other armies have also had their turn sacking and destroying Jerusalem.

Now the King has His servants do something different. He commands them to go into the highways and bring the general population into the wedding. It is at this point that we Gentiles should be most interested, for this directly concerns us. Although it is not flattering, the fact is that God desired to extend his original invitation to the Jews, and when this was rejected, to turn to us Gentiles. Yet, we are not the “second choice” or Plan B, as some commentators have termed it. God did not have a “back up plan”, so to speak, when His People rejected Him. No, it was His Plan all along that salvation should be extended to all men through the sacrificial offering of His only Son, offered by His sacrificial people. As St. Paul tells us, the Jews’ failing is our glory, and thankfully so. Yet, to my mind and to many others, it remains mysterious why this is so. Only the Almighty and Omniscient mind of God knows.

Now we come to the crux of the story. Having filled his house with guests, of varied backgrounds and inclinations, the King comes to inspect the wedding. He spies a man without a wedding garment and questions him. On first examination, the King’s reaction seems harsh and unreasonable. He commands severe punishment for the man whom He required to come in! How unjust, we think.

Yet, when we know the customs of the day, the King’s reaction is totally understandable. The ancient Jews celebrated weddings for a number of days, not just for a few hours as we do. Recall the Marriage at Cana, where the crowd consumed some sixty-odd gallons of wine before Christ in his munificence made more! Aside from the lavish food and drink, it was considered important that the guests be attired properly. The wedding also called for a wedding garment. Now, it was customary for the bride’s father to furnish the wedding garments for his guests, so that no one would be excluded or unable to attend because they couldn’t afford the clothes.

One was given the very attire to be presentable, at no cost to himself. Thus, when one had received such a gracious and generous invitation, refusing it was virtually unthinkable. It was simply not to be done.

Yet, this is the situation in which the King finds himself in the parable. He has graciously invited guests to his banquet and has even provided them a wedding garment. He has offered his very best for them and he is soundly rejected…

Let us close this analogy. God Himself has invited us to partake in the heavenly banquet with the Royal wedding party, in a feast that will continue forever. He has not only invited us, He has also provided the wedding garment, Christ, in which we are to be clothed. In short, in order to attend the heavenly banquet, we are to “put on” Christ. He is our new identity, our new appearance in which we will be presented to God the Father. As we see from the parable, it is the only appearance that is acceptable.

When the King commands them, the general population, to be brought in, it is also a picture of the Last Judgment. This is why the King commanded all to be brought in from the highways and bi-ways. In Luke’s version, the King’s servants “compel” them to come in. It is not a voluntary appearance.

Finally, we come to the last, chilling statement where the King informs us that “many are called, but few are chosen.” This calling takes two forms: first, the all-loving, all-encompassing call of Christ from the Cross, where the grace of God is extended to all men. Salvation is offered to all men by this gracious call. Second, the call comes in the form of the Last Judgment, where all men will be held accountable. In fact, in the Family Prayer of the the Prayer Book, it tells us “we must give a strict account of our thoughts, words, and actions” to Christ. Those of us who have accepted the gracious invitation and who have put on Christ will be invited into eternal fellowship with Him. Those who have spurned, ignored or willfully rejected the call will be cast into “outer darkness”, where “there shall weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Yet, God the Father is not unreasonable, nor is he unjust or unkind. After all, He has provided us the wedding garment. He has given us exactly what we need. It is up to us whether or not we will put it on.

Beloved, let us embrace this gracious and wonderful invitation. Let us continually, day by day, put on Christ. Let us, day by day, know that God so loved us that He not only desired to have fellowship with us, He also made it possible. Those who do so will not only be called, they will also be chosen.

It is up to us. Let us accept this calling. Let us put on Christ and let us be the Chosen, beloved of God forever.

Matthew 22:12 “And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless.”