Follow by Email

Sunday, December 15, 2013

“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

3rd Sunday in Advent, 2013

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabus Anglican Church
December 15, 2013

“Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”  From the Gospel for
today, this is the question that John the Baptist had his disciples ask Jesus.
Recall that at this time, he was a guest of the local Herodian government, although we can rightly guess that his accommodations were hardly satisfactory…

I imagine that nobody in this room has ever been imprisoned. It has to be very, very hard, even if one has done the crime.  Imagine how difficult it would be if one was denied their freedom for having done the right thing, as was the case with John the Baptizer!  Recall that Herod had shut him up in prison, mainly because he criticized the king for marrying his brother’s Phillip’s wife, Herodias.  He had denounced him publicly, and rightly so.  In so doing, he also incurred Herodias’ undying hatred, which would later cause him to be beheaded.  We can observe here that an ungodly spirit, when provoked, is especially vehement in its persecution of its righteous critics.

Let us remember that this is the same John, who was imbued with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb.  Recall the passage in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke:
Luke 1:41-42  41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:  42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

This is also the same John who, when asked by the priests and Levites if he was the Christ, the Jew’s promised  Messiah, answered in the words of John’s gospel: John 1:20 And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, I am not the Christ.” John refused to take any credit for himself, but instead testified of Christ, when he said: (Luke 3:16) “I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire.”

Finally, this is the same John, who, even after a lifetime of looking for Christ and having baptized Him in the river Jordan, asked the question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?”

Is this just the moment of doubt of some early New Testament prophet, or does it have application to us today? Might we even say that many people ask this same question, especially at this time of year.  Every year, we go through the same “culture wars” over Christmas.   The secularists fight against public displays of Christmas, and most people satisfy themselves with saying “Happy Holidays”, so that they can’t be accused of being politically incorrect.

And on and on it goes….. today is the Third Sunday in Advent. Advent, as we mentioned a couple of weeks earlier, has actually become a four-week celebration of Christmas, at least commercially and in occasions such as office parties and the like.  Many companies are having, or have had, their “Holiday Parties” already.  Of course soon, we will hear the usual mis-information about the 12 days of Christmas, which to the undiscerning public, begins on December 13 and extends until the 25th.  We have all been bombarded with Christmas (or “Holiday”) ads since before Thanksgiving, which is never a very popular holiday with the mercantile class, because they can’t commercialize it very much. 

Thus, one can see why some, maybe many people just want to get Christmas “over with.”  Of course, immediately after Christmas, the drumbeat will begin for New Years, and the World will lurch towards the parties that mostly meaningless holiday brings.

Enough….without belaboring the point, we think the reason that many folks tire of Christmas before it occurs is because they focus on the wrong things.  Celebrations, parties, gifts, trees, and decorations fill our thoughts and our efforts, crowding out the real reason for the season.  That reason, of course, is the Nativity of our blessed Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  He is the One of which Isaiah spoke when he said, “Isaiah 11:10: ”And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.” 

The very real and valuable way to enjoy Christmas is to stay focused on the Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, True God of true God, and true Light of Light, who come into this dark world to be with us, Immanuel.  When we focus on this, to the best of our ability, and despite the commercial “clutter” around us, we Christians will still enjoy peace and “his (our) rest shall be glorious.”

We feel deeply that one of our goals as Christians should be to rest in the Lord all year round.  As we focus on the Church year and as we celebrate the major events in Christ’s earthly ministry, we will find our earthly sojourn takes on greater and greater meaning.  Life, even ordinary life, becomes more meaningful and valuable.
Let us consider this: there are five major events in the life of Christ, after which the Church has patterned her year.  These are, of course, the Incarnation, the Nativity, the Atonement, the Resurrection, and the Ascension, all of which carry special significance to us Christians, for they are the very “stuff” of which our faith is constructed.
This season we celebrate the second of these major events, the Nativity, or the First Coming of Christ. Its significance is without parallel, for now Jesus, the very Word made Flesh, has come to live as one of us.  It is not as some anti-Christian groups claim as a charge against Christianity, that we presume to think that man became God, but rather the glorious reverse.  God became man and “dwelt among us, full of grace and truth”, to quote St. John.  Thus, Christianity is very much “top down”, that is, Grace and truth flow downwards from God to man. We Christians believe that we do not dictate to God, but He to us through His Holy Word. We have not attempted to make man into God, but God has stooped to become Man.  This is important. This is fundamental and it is truly profound, for this is the real celebration of Christmas.

Let’s return to John the Baptizer for a moment. Lying in the dark in Herod’s
dungeon, perhaps chained to a wall in his dank cell, he had heard of Jesus’ mighty works from his visitors and disciples. Perhaps John sensed that his time was short. Perhaps he sensed that his mission on this earth was drawing to a close. Maybe he questioned, “Is this the one for whom I have prophesied all my life?” We don’t know. What we do know, however, from Matthew’s account was that he asked a question, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?

We know that he received his answer when Christ told the messengers: (Mat 11:4-6) “Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.” Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever.   AMEN

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Distress of Nations….

2nd Sunday in Advent, 2013

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
December 8, 2013

Luke 21:25-27  “And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring;  26 Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.  27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.”

On the surface, it seems that we have an anomaly with this Sunday’s Gospel selection from St. Luke. Doesn’t it seem strange to have a Gospel reading that presages the end of time, with all its horrific events, at the beginning of the Church Year?  At first glance, we think it does.

Please note, this particular passage is known as the “small apocalypse” of St. Luke.  It echoes, in many details, the Apocalypse of St. John in the book of Revelations.  Some commentators see it as a preview, if you will, of that book.  Others, usually of a more modern interpretative persuasion, see this passage as foretelling the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.[i] Honestly said, both interpretations have their value, and as if often the case with Biblical prophecy, it may very well be a case of “both and”, rather than merely “either-or.”

Still, at any rate, it may seem vaguely out-of-place. Certainly for this priest, prior to some heavy Biblical study, and some blessed enlightenment by the Holy Ghost, it certainly seemed that way for a long time.

Let’s briefly examine this passage and see why it actually has great significance for this Advent Season today and now, as well as for all Christians until the world’s end.
If one backs up a few verses in Ch. 21 of Luke, it begins with the disciples admiring the magnificence of the Temple, to which Christ replies that not one stone will be left upon another.  To many students of the Bible, this reference clearly refers to the desolation of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and rightly so.  The Temple was destroyed by the Romans, when they brought their leveling bars and turned Jerusalem into a pile of rubble after the revolt of 70 A.D.

What is amazing is that Temple, although magnificent, was only a faint reflection of the truly amazing Temple of Solomon, which was considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, and, as we know from our Biblical history, was destroyed by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar.  At any rate, the disciples had to be amazed that Christ would make so amazing and dispiriting a prediction. They asked the obvious question, when will thing happen?

Jesus then gives a truly fearsome answer that many have thought to be about the end times, including a discussion of the Anti-Christ, wars and rumors of wars, nations against nations, and terrifying natural disasters. He also speaks of signs in the heavens, and persecution of Christians.  Interesting, many of these things happen almost routinely in this fallen world. We have been experiencing some truly terrible natural disasters latterly, both abroad and in this country, with the recent tornadic activity, for example.

What sets Christ’s account of the end times apart from the routine effect of the curse under which the world labors, dating back to Adam and Eve, is the end result.  After Christ describes the signs in the heavens, and the powers of heaven being shaken, he caps it with the announcement (Luke 21:27-28) And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

This is where this passage begins to make a great deal of sense for our Advent journey.
The message for Christians is very plain: persevere to the end with faith, and your salvation will be secured. In short, “look up, and lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.”

This is the point: one cannot celebrate the first coming of Christ without recognizing the reality of the Second Coming as well.  That is, if one is blessed with faith, one knows that beginning at Nazareth ends with the cataclysmic ending at the end of time, when Jesus Christ finally reclaims what is rightfully His.  He came the first time in great humility, and this is the Jesus, the world, especially the secular world, loves to admire. Virtually everyone has a soft spot for the Christ child, somewhere in their being.

Yet, it is the Second Christ that the secularists and non-believers reject.  They can handle, maybe, the baby Jesus.  However, they cannot abide, they cannot stomach, the true King of Kings and Lord of Lords as He is portrayed in His glorious and divine Self.  As Matthew 24:30 tells us “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.”  Imagine the scene, with the skies literally splitting apart and Our Lord and Savior Christ coming to earth on a  cloud with great glory. It will be terrifying enough for us Christians; imagine what those without any faith will feel….

As a theological aside, the cloud on which Christ will arrive will not be just any ordinary cloud.  Most theologians believe that this is the Shikinah Cloud, the cloud that led Israel through Sinai, the cloud of glory that enveloped the temple in the Book of Ezekiel, and possibly the “Cloud of Winesses” that the writer of the Book of Hebrews spoke of. It was also the same cloud that overshadowed Christ and his three chosen disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration. In short, it will not be ordinary.

One might be tempted, to say “So what?” Who cares what cloud Christ accompanies Christ? What is the big deal?
Beloved in the Lord, nothing that the Lord does is without significance.  The point is, that when our Lord returns in power and great glory, He will not be alone.  He will be accompanied with the host of heaven, and he will come in unspeakable power and great glory. 

This is truly what we are celebrating today.  We are not just celebrating the coming of our Lord and Savior, although that is incredibly and eternally significant.  We are also celebrating the prediction of the completion of God’s Plan for His world.  As we said, one simply cannot celebrate the First Advent of Christ without recognizing the reality and inevitability of the Second.  What God the Father began through Christ, he will complete through Christ.  Someday, the Great Cycle of Creation, Sacrifice, Resurrection and ultimate Redemption will be accomplished.

 For this, we must offer to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost eternal praise, honor, and glory, forever and ever.

The time is now.  May we make the most of this Advent Season, as Our Lord and Savior draweth nigh. AMEN

Luke 21:27-28  “And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.  28 And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”

[i] From a lecture by Rev’d. Daniel Dunlap, Cranmer Theological House, 2006

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rags and Riches

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Twenty First Sunday after Trinity
October 20, 2013

 “Rags and Riches”

Isaiah 64:6   But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.”


John 4:50  Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way.”

These verses come from our O.T. Lesson and the Gospel selection for the Twenty-First Sunday after Trinity, which we just heard.  How could there be any connection between the two? Surely, there is not, because at first glance they seem diametrically opposed. 
After all, one is fairly negative statement from Isaiah, the other is an extremely positive, even miraculous statement from Our Lord.

Actually, these two verses encapsulate the entire Christian experience.  Once again, how can a prophecy from an early O.T. prophet and a miracle of Our Lord have any relationship? What a question…the large answer is that both Scriptures actually “bookend” the Christian good news of our journey from desolation to acceptance by God.

Let’s begin to examine this by looking at the passage from Isaiah first.
The prophet begins with almost a note of frustration, that the peoples of the earth would see the majesty of God.  He asks that God would comedown and literally melt the mountains, so that all men would tremble at the presence of God.  As we will learn later in the reading, it is clear that we are not worthy of God’s regard.

Vs. 4 tells us “For since the beginning of the world men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen, O God, beside thee, what he hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.”  Does this verse sound familiar?  It should, because St. Paul quotes it almost verbatim in 1 Cor. 2:9, when he says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” What is so wonderful about this is the wonderful foundation that Isaiah provided for the New Testament Church. If there was ever any doubt that then\ O.T. and N.T. are one seamless cloth, like the cloak of Christ, let it be dispelled.  Those who ignore the O.T. do so to their own spiritual peril.

Isaiah then mentions our true nature and the basic unredeemed nature of mankind when he says, (Isaiah 64:6)   But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” He continues with the statement that all have turned away and have forsaken God and his ways. He mentions that God has “consumed” them because of their iniquities. He then uses a beautiful analogy that God is the potter and we the clay. This is a concept that has come down to us through the centuries because of Isaiah.  He ends with a plea that God, although He is “wroth” with His People, would restrain his righteous anger.  Isaiah cites as evidence of God's displeasure that the beautiful cities are destroyed and that the fabulous Temple is destroyed.

If one looks at Biblical history, one can see these things clearly told in 2 Kings Ch. 18.  The writer of that book tells how the King of Assyria besieged and took the Northern Kingdom, including Samaria, and that Hezekiah stripped the gold and silver from Solomon’s Temple to pay tribute to him. In short, all of the prophecy of Isaiah comes to pass.

This reading from Isaiah couldn’t be more negative.  Man is impugned, his creations are being destroyed by other fallen men, and God has turned away His face.  What could be worse?

Fortunately, it gets a lot better for mankind or, more accurately said, for the household of faith.  Luckily for us, most of Isaiah’s earlier prophecy dealt with the coming of the Messiah. Isaiah’s prediction of the Virgin Birth and the coming lordship of Christ shine brightly in a book wherein lies much darkness, due to the sinful nature of man.  For example, in Ch. 59, we read this: “(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.” He speaks of the corruption of his age.  Yet, in the very same chapter, Isaiah tells us that the Lord will put on righteousness as a breastplate and a helmet of salvation on his head.  This is the same language St. Paul will use much, much, later in his Epistle to the Ephesians. Isaiah becomes much more positive as he reiterates the coming of the Messiah in Isaiah 59:20:”And the Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto them that turn from transgression in Jacob, saith the LORD.”

Shifting to our Gospel for the day taken from St. John IV, we see the fruits of righteousness, as modeled by Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  He, who came exactly as foretold by his faithful servant Isaiah, has brought something mankind could never have: new and unending life. In this case, Jesus heals a nobleman’s son with a word of healing from afar. He tells the nobleman to go his way, for his son lives. Note, first, that even our Lord expresses a  bit of the same obtuseness in man noted in Isaiah as He tells us: ( John 4:48) “Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.”
Nevertheless, as the nobleman persists, Christ completes the miracle with a word.  Note, however, that the nobleman “believed the word that Jesus had spoken to him” and goes his way.  Nearing his home, his servants run to tell him that the boy is alive and well.  This, in turn, causes the man and his household to embrace the Way.

St. John notes that this is the second miracle that Christ performed as he began His ministry, the first being the changing of water into fine wine at the marriage at Cana.

Earlier, we said that these two readings “bookend” the Christian experience.  That is, they chronicle our progression from death unto life in Christ.  And so it is, as we move from the somber history and prophecy of Isaiah to the glorious fulfillment of that prophecy in John (and the other Gospels.) Isaiah couldn’t be more bleak at times, contrasted with the new life revealed in the Gospel of John.  We see man’s progression from complete corruption, death, and destruction in Isaiah, to an era where new life is granted with a word. This is marvelous and glorious.

Yet, this new life did not come without a price.  As the Gospels tell us, the Jews would continue in their hard-heartedness.  Just as they rejected the teachings and warnings of the prophets, so will they do to the Last Prophet, Priest, and King, Jesus Christ. They will reject him to the very end, until He expired on a criminal’s cross in a garbage dump outside Jerusalem.   Here, like in Isaiah, is where God’s Glory shines all the more brightly, despite man’s attempts to quell it.  As in Isaiah, the good outshines the bad, as Christ seals our redemption and our salvation with His own blood. Despite man’s best attempts to thwart Jesus, He triumphs, and He triumphs gloriously.

As we enter the last weeks of Trinity season into the somber, yet glorious season of Advent, it is good for all of us, with uplifted faces and grateful spirits, to meditate on this mighty progression from death unto life. Recall that our natural state is like that portrayed in Isaiah.  Yet, thanks be to God, our intended state is that of the nobleman’s son, who was given new life through Christ.  It is into this state that we have come, thanks to our Lord and Savior Jesus and to the ministration of His Holy Church. May we ever give thanks that all of us are part of that body, now and forever.
Thanks be to God! AMEN.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Timing and Action

The Rev’d.  Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Twentieth Sunday after Trinity
October 21st, 2013
“Timing and Action

From the Collect for the 20th Sunday after Trinity:
“O ALMIGHTY and most merciful God, of thy bountiful goodness keep us, we beseech thee, from all things that may hurt us; that we, being ready both in body and
soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things which thou commandest; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Amen.

The comedian Woody Allen once said, “The greatest part of life is just showing up…”
Regardless of what one may think about that particular comedian, that is a very interesting comment.  What he was talking about may boil down to one word: timing.  In others words, being in the right place at the right time.

For example, some of you may be aware that Bill Gates profited greatly from timing, or more properly said, a missed opportunity.  It seems that in the dawning of the personal computer age, back in the late 70’s and early ‘80’s, IBM was seeking a functional and durable operating system for their proposed PC. A man, who name is well almost forgotten, had developed a very good one, in which IBM was interested.  Gates had also developed and/or acquired one, called DOS, or Disk Operating System.   IBM called the first man and left a message with his wife for him to call.  They wanted to collaborate, and perhaps put his system on their new PCs.  For some reason, his wife failed to give him the message, so assuming he was not interested, they turned to Gates. Here was a Harvard drop-out, although brilliant, who actually took his mother with him for his first big demo with the IBM executives. During this demo, the system became unstable and crashed.  Nevertheless, IBM adopted it.
Bill Gates eventually became the richest man in the world, and the other man went into obscurity.  All of this happened because of timing.

No doubt some of this congregation are thinking, “Very interesting, but what does this has to do with us?  What word is the Lord speaking to us today?”  What “golden thread” of truth can be found in the Scripture readings for today?

The propers for the 20th Sunday after Trinity, just like the story about B ill Gates, have to do with one very important aspect of life: timing. Comedians and raconteurs know that the key to telling a joke successfully lies in timing. A great joke without timing usually does not work.  Gates was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time.  He also had the willingness to do what was necessary to achieve success. 

Similarly, we too need to both ready and willing to respond to God when He calls. Our Collect for the day asks that "we, being ready both in body and soul, may cheerfully accomplish those things which thou commandest;” That is, when the call of God comes, we ought to have the willingness and the open-ness to do what God calls us to do.

As usual, this sounds simple, but as with many spiritual things that are enmeshed with this life, can be very difficult to accomplish. Why? Simply because of the many distractions of life, most of us find ourselves in a constant tug-of-war with our calling to be closer with God versus the constant, incessant, voices of the World.  They call us one way, while the Holy Spirit is always calling us to greater fellowship with Him.  Unfortunately, this is an ongoing conversation that never ends while we are on this earth.

How then, are we to heed the voice of God, as opposed to the voices of the World? This is a great question…. One very great clue is given us in today Epistle from Ephesians.
First, Pau deals with timing, telling us to be “redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” That is, we are to use our time wisely while we are here, and to seek to understand what the Will of God is for us.  He tells us not to be filled with the excess pleasures of the flesh (i.e. “drunk with wine”) but to be filled with the Spirit.  Now, here is our clue to replacing the voices of the world with the Voice of the Spirit.  The Apostle tells us to be “speaking to you in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ….”

If we have an interior conversation with God going on all or most of the time, somewhere in the recesses of our consciousness, we are less apt to heed the deceptive, fallen voices of the World.  When we speaking to God in some way, our souls are listening to Him and not to other things.  Once again, simple, yes but not easy…
The point is, get the conversations started…try to be in touch with God constantly, and allow your soul and your being to be filled with light.

This is where “being ready both in body and soul” comes in.  In other words, timing.  It begins with prayer, namely the prayer for faith and for the indwelling of the Holy Ghost.  It is sustained through constant, daily immersion in the Word of God. It continues as the Spirit brings those things we have read back into our consciousness as we move through our day.  It takes a bit of effort on our part, namely the willingness to sit down with the Word for a few minutes each morning and evening, whenever possible.  In my own case, I’ve been working overnights for the past week, and frankly, my prayer life has suffered.   And yes, I do feel the difference when I fall off my prayer cycle.  The sense of completeness is simply not there. 

Also, this priest finds that timing enters in here as well.  Not only the willingness to make time for personal prayer and devotion, as a simple healthy spiritual exercise, but also the discipline to make it happen.  Our Enemy below is only too delighted to see us slip in our prayer habits.  Once away from the habitual practice of personal, organized prayer, one finds that it is just too easy to keep away. Of course, herein lies the danger for our souls.

So, how can we have “perfect timing” with God?  That is, how do we know that we are doing what God wants for us, and that we have the willingness to do it?  Another great question.  Let us look at our Gospel for an answer.

This is a wonderful, yet disturbing parable.  The King (God) throws a wedding party or feast for His Son.  We may safely presume that this is Christ.  He invites his chosen guests, “them that were bidden” (the Jews), to the wedding.  Recall that the call of God came first to the Jews through Christ, who was sent to the “lost sheep of Israel.”  They, however, spurned the King’s offer, just as the Jews did to Christ.  The King is angry and turns from His chosen guests to the world at large. He tells his servants to go out into the highways and bid whom they find to the feast, the marriage supper. The servants do so, finding both “bad and good”, and the wedding is furnished.  As an aside, remember O Christian, if thou art tempted to vault thyself against the unfaithfulness of the Jews, remember that it was for your salvation.  As St. Paul tells us in Romans, their stumbling was for our exaltation.  We gentiles are those brought in from the highways and byways, which is not the most flattering thought.

Continuing with the parable, the King comes in to survey His feast. He sees a man who has not on a wedding garment, which was customary in those days.  He says, “Friend, how did you come in wihout a wedding garment?”  A simple question, indeed.  The man is “speechless.”  The King commands him bound and cast out in “outer darkness.”

Now, at first glance, this seems heartless, especially when one considers that these people were compelled to come in from the highways and byways.  They were thrust into the wedding, so to speak.  How then, the King’s anger?

Simply this.  In those days, one was required to have a wedding garment, indeed.  Not having one just wasn’t done…What is not told us, however  is that the host provided the wedding garment to his guests,  Oftentimes, these garment were pre-delivered to the guest’s houses.  In this case, the King must have had them at the door for his impromptu guests.  Yet, here is a man without one, and the King is understandably perturbed.  Either this man came in by another door, or he refused to wear what was offered him, or somehow did not enter the wedding properly.  Something is amiss. He does not have on his wedding garment.

Let us draw the analogy to a close. Obviously; the wedding is a betrothal of Creation to her Creator and Husband, Jesus Christ.  Using the reference from Revelations, the whole earth, “the New Jerusalem” someday will be presented to Christ as a spotless bride. Meanwhile, the King has provided a way for mankind to take part in this banquet, by means of a wedding garment.
Those who wear it are invited to the eternal banquet.  Those who don’t wear the garment are excluded from the feast.  The point is that the guest does the choosing.  He or she can wear the wedding garment and be accepted, or can reject it, thus forfeiting fellowship with the King and His party.  What could be simpler?

Thus, when we have on Christ, our timing is always perfect.  If we are wearing Christ every day, we are able to walk right into the wedding feast, or if you will, into the presence of God our King.  In the words of the Epistle to the Hebrews, we may “boldness” to come into the presence of God through Christ.  This is marvelous and truly awesome.

What we should pray for is the willingness, daily, to wear Christ. While we are wearing Christ, we should be speaking to Him and letting Him speak to us constantly. This comes as we pray to be ready to cheerfully accomplish those things that God commands us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.   May it always be so.  AMEN.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Greatest Gift...

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
18th Sunday after Trinity 2013
September 29, 2010

Jer 32:15         “For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and                             vineyards shall be possessed again in this land.”

Our O.T. Lesson ends with a very promising note, as the Lord speaks through the Prophet Jeremiah. He tells him that there will be a repossession of the land that is now threatened to go into the hands of the Babylonians, perhaps forever. It is all the more amazing for that, since in the previous verses, we heard of all the misfortunes that are about to befall the city of Jerusalem and her king. We are told that the city is to be taken by the Chaldeans (Babylonians} under Nebuchadnezzar. We are told also that Zedekiah also would not escape his hand, but would meet him personally. One could safely assume this meeting would not be very pleasant.

We know from our history, and from the 52nd chapter of Jeremiah, that all these things came to pass. Zedekiah did rebel against the Babylonians, which meant he stopped paying tribute and tried to regain his independence.  Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem for a little over two years, at which point the whole city was starving.  At this point Zedekiah and his chief men of war escaped the city through a break in the wall and tried to make a run for it.  Of course, they were pursued and captured, then sent to Nebuchadnezzar at Riblah for judgment. As you might guess, it was harsh.  First, Zedekiah’s sons were executed in front of him, and then he himself had his eyes put out. Next, he was put in chains and carried off to prison in Babylon, which we know was not a model of hygiene or cleanliness, even for captive kings.  Soon after this, Nebuchadnezzar would have his chief captain, Nebuzaradan, return to Jerusalem to sack the Temple, then to burn it and most of Jerusalem. In short, Jerusalem was pillaged and trashed.

How then, does this reading end on a positive note? How could anything positive come out of all this? What a question, indeed.

It comes towards the end of the reading for today.  The Lord tells Jeremiah that his uncle will come visit him, and will ask him to buy a field that he has a right to redeem, if he wants it. This word of the Lord comes to pass as his uncle does indeed come and the deal is done.

How curious this is, seemingly, under the current state of circumstances!  Here we have Jeremiah on one hand prophesying about the end of Jerusalem, and on the other, seeking to buy land in a country that may be longer theirs.  What could be the meaning of this?

Our clue comes in the last verse of the reading, where the Lord says, For thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land. “The Lord promises something very special here. For further information on what the Lord may be giving, let us refer to our Epistle for today. In it, we read of the great cosmic battle between the Archangel Michael, and Satan.  Evidently, Satan had seduced a large number of angels to join him in his quest for power, for he led a revolt in Heaven against God, as sought to become the “most high.” This battle is referenced in the books of Daniel and Isaiah.  Daniel speaks of Satan’s thirst to be like God, and Isaiah tells us of his (Satan’s) fall from Heaven. Both are powerful accounts, helping us to understand how and why evil is so prevalent in this world our reading from Revelations tells us:  “Therefore rejoice, ye heavens, and ye that dwell in them.”
“Woe to the inhabiters of the earth and of the sea! For the devil is come down unto you, having great wrath, because he knoweth that he hath but a short time.” [1]

How could these two pieces of scripture have any connection?  Jeremiah tells us that the land will be re-possessed by the children of Israel.  He shows his faith in this by redeeming the land he has a right to buy, even though it may no longer be considered Judah, but Babylonian.  Revelations tells us that there was a war in heaven, and Michael and his angels defeated the evil host.

The connection is this: in both cases, there is a restoration, or a redemption, or, if you will, a cancelling out of evil and its power.  Although in Jeremiah, the Chaldeans are about to take Jerusalem, she will be restored.  In Revelations, although there was a war in Heaven, and although evil was cast down to earth, it will not be forever.  Jeremiah is told to buy land, because someday, all will be restored.  St. John in Revelations tells us the devil is vanquished, although his defeat is not complete yet.  Yet, it is done, as referenced here: ” And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.” [2]
Thus, the stage is set for something that God does very well: restoration. In the case of Jeremiah, God is intending to restore the Kingdom of Judah, although not immediately. In fact, it will be 70 years before the exiles will return to their historic homelands. They will return, however.  Note here an amazing similarity to the first such exile that the Jews suffered, because they failed to follow God’s plan. What was the first exile?  It occurred in the book of Deuteronomy, when the Lord commanded the people to take possession of the good land before them.  Instead of obeying Him, the people, with the exception of Joshua, Caleb, and a few others, shrank back. 
They did not have the faith to possess what God had given them. As a result, God caused them to wander in Sinai and the surrounding areas for 40 years or until mortality consumed that faithless generation.

The Babylonian Captivity worked in the same manner, except that God increased the time away from Judea.  Instead of 40 years, this time it was 70 years. Evidently, God wanted that entire generation of idolaters, and then some, dead. He did not want them to pollute the restoration of Judah, when it happened.

The point for us today is that God does indeed restore and repair. He takes us in our brokenness, when we repent, and heals us.  He restores us to our former position of favor in His eyes. All of this, of course, occurs because we have grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

This may be the greatest gift of all.  All of us have had or will have an opportunity to forgive someone for something they have done to us.  Normally, it is important to note that we are instructed to forgive a sin against us when the offending party repents. Then, we fall into that category of “70 times 7” that Our Lord spoke about.  Recall that the original question asked of Christ by his disciples was, “How many times do I forgive my brother, if he repents after sinning against me? Seven times?”    Christ’s amazing answer was “Not seven times, but seventy times seven.” In other words, if there is repentance, we are to forgive an innumerable number of times, like our Father in Heaven does.

Yes, but how about those times where no repentance is evident? Do we forgive then?  This is much more challenging….Unfortunately, even though we may not like the answer, it too is “yes.”  There are at least two reasons for this.
First, we are told to do this in the Lord’s Prayer.  It says, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”   Our own forgiveness is conditional on our forgiving others.

This is tough, but necessary.  It is necessary for our own positive spiritual condition.  If we forgive, as painful as it may be, we will become spiritually whole, rather than harboring hatred, or bitterness or negativity. As some of you know, we recently suffered the loss of our household weapons, including some very old and valued pieces by a person to whom we gave a place to stay for a while. He repaid us by theft.  Personally, I have struggled with this, but, through the grace of God, have forgiven him. The hurt of loss is still there, however.  That can only be made better by restoration, which will not happen in this case….

Yet, this highlights in stark relief the difference between God and Man.  Man may forgive, but he rarely forgets. Man may forgive, but the relationship is rarely the same, especially for adults.  Yet, with God, because of the precious blood of Christ, we are forgiven and restored.  God even said to us, “And their sins will I remember no more….”  How amazing is this!

Yet, beloved, this is our God…He forgives, and He restores us to place of favor with Him, although we certainly do not deserve it. Our good deeds, especially when weighed with our sinfulness, will never be enough for our justification.  Thus, away with works righteousness and self-righteousness! They cannot attain forgiveness or salvation for us.

But, there is a way, which we all know….It is the way of peace and joy and quiet; even though it was acquired with the opposite of all of those things…it was acquired through battle, through pain and suffering on a large wooden Cross some two millennia ago.  Because of that, we have forgiveness and restoration. Because of that, we have a special relationship to Almighty God… Because of that we are indeed most blessed.

Glory be to God!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, Amen.

[1] Rev. 12:12
[2] Rev. 12:10

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Covenant and Grace

Covenant and Grace

15th Sunday after Trinity 2013
September 8, 2013
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Rev. Stephen E. Stults

From our O.T. Lesson for today, please hear this:
Deuteronomy 7:7-8   ”The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: (and) Deuteronomy 7:9   9 “Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations;”

These words, taken from the Old Testament Lesson for the 15th Sunday after Trinity, have both great significance and prophetic power for us today. They are significant because they tell us what we are as the people of God.  They are prophetic because they tell us what we are to expect from God in that role.

These are weighty and powerful statements, to be sure. Let us examine the context in which they were said and see how they apply to us today. The Israelites had been encamped on the slopes of Mt. Sinai for some time. According to God speaking through Moses his prophet, the People have stayed there long enough.  Here they received the Law.  Here, no doubt, they have had many excellent and fulfilling discussions about it, but now it is time to move the Law out into the world.  Before they go, Moses reminds them how they were brought out of Egypt, with a mighty hand.  He also reminds them of the former generation’s fear of possessing the land.  Recall that the fact-finding mission of Caleb, Joshua, and a few other faithful men many years ago urged Israel to rise up and possess the land.  Recall how they brought back the fruit of the land and joyfully told the congregation of Israel that it was a good land. Yet, instead of moving forward in faith, the congregation cowered in fear. They talked of the Anakins, the giant people of the land, and they spoke of all the obstacles they would have to overcome. The group that came out of Egypt was afraid.  They had already forgotten what their purpose was and who they were.  As a result, they did not do what God commanded them to do, despite the fact that He said that He would fight for them. Instead, they shrunk back.

Now, in today’s lesson, we have a different scene. Since God had them wander about for forty years, the majority of that original murmuring group of ex-Egyptian slaves were now dead. In place of that generation are a group of people who want to do God’s will and who want to go in to possess the land. Some of them must have been very eager, “chomping at the bit”, so to speak.

It is to this group that Moses speaks.  He tells them what they must do, as well as what they mustn’t do in order to reap the benefits of God’s favor. First, he tells them that when, not if, God destroys their enemies before them, in order to establish them in the land, they must not mix with,  intermarry, or adopt the ways of the  people around them.  After all, these were the detestable, pagan, satanic Canaanites, who practiced devil worship, human sacrifice and unclean personal relations. In short, they were corrupt. God did not want His People to be so corrupted. As we know, later in their history, the Israelites eventually would be very much influenced by their pagan neighbors and pay a heavy price for it.  At this point, however, they were not tainted. Moses hoped to keep it so by presenting to them the advantages of keeping pure. He also showed to them the negative consequences of breaking covenant with God.

In the verses immediately preceding our reading, hear the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 7:2-3:    “And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:  3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.” 

The reason is clear when Moses continues: Deuteronomy 7:4   For they will turn away thy son from following me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the LORD be kindled against you, and destroy thee suddenly.”  It is clear that evil tends to corrupt, and that absolute evil tends to corrupt absolutely, to paraphrase Lord Acton’s aphorism about power.  There is no doubt that corruption does spread, like a contagion.  This is exactly what Moses fears and what he preaches against in this address.

Perhaps the most interesting point is when he says, (Deuteronomy 7:7) The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people:” God did not choose a mighty people on which to manifest his glory. Instead, He chose a wretched slave people, now freed, to be His ambassadors throughout the earth.
 Moses’ statement are compelling, because he says: (Deuteronomy 7:8)  But because the LORD loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers, hath the LORD brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” In short, God did not choose the Israelites because they were powerful, or even numerous in terms of what a nation should be.  He did not choose them because of their righteousness or their just deserts.  He chose them because of the oath He made to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. God is being true to Himself, which is what He must always do.

Moses continues to expound on the relationship when he mentions that God will destroy those who hate him. He will not be “slack” in repaying those who reward love with hate.  As an aside, it is truly an amazing thing when one finally realizes that he or she is truly and fully loved by God.  Not in some ephemeral, surface sort of way, but in the deep meaningful sort of way that one loving spouse says to another, “I love you.”  Yet, even this is inadequate to describe the love of God for us.  It goes way, way beyond the human capability to love. It is a love that is so deep and so profound that it cannot be described with words.  The only way it can be described is with actions, and the action that describes God’s true love for us is the Cross.  All of the other actions that are meant to signify God’s love for us pale in comparison to this.  All of the puritanical rules and codes of conduct that have turned so many against Christianity, yet that are done in the name of Christ, are meaningless and destructive without the true spirit of love in them. Loveless, joyless life, if one can call it that, does not please God. We are to show God how much we love Him by loving Him, and our neighbor as ourselves. The formula of love is simple, but not easy.  It is: love God, love yourself in and through God, and love your neighbor as yourself.

Yet, in the mercy and love of God, He does more, if that is possible. God did not just provide for our eternal destination and then leave us to survive as best we can until we get there.  No, instead He promises to keep covenant with those who keep covenant with Him.  In keeping covenant, He provides for our earthly needs as well. Thus, if we remain faithful, He will keep faith with those who keep faith with Him. Moses tells us this in Deuteronomy 7:12-13:“Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers:  13 And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee: he will also bless the fruit of thy womb, and the fruit of thy land, thy corn, and thy wine, and thine oil, the increase of thy kine, and the flocks of thy sheep, in the land which he sware unto thy fathers to give thee.”

There is a great lesson in this for us, in several ways.  First, we should consider the numerical question. Yes, we are small at this point, but so were the Israelites at one time. Yet, God blessed them and increased them. Recall how Jacob rehearsed God’s words to him, when he encamped beside Jordan on that fateful night when he would become Israel: (Genesis 32:12) ”And thou saidst, I will surely do thee good, and make thy seed as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.” In like manner He will do the same with us, on one condition.  Just as the Israelites were to remain faithful, so we must continue to remain faithful.   As we obey the law of love, so God will love us, keep us, and multiply us.

We are the blessed people of God.  We are the new Israel, blessed in God, blessed in the love He has for us, and most importantly, blessed in the love we have for each other.

It is all important that we remain faithful.  It is all important that we obey the law of love.  Finally, it is all important that we rejoice in the love God has for us.

Deuteronomy 7:6  “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.”

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sufficiency and Selflessness

Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, 2013
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
August 18th, 2013

Beloved in the Lord, consider these two words: sufficiency and selflessness.  We will submit to you that this is the theme that runs through our Epistle and Gospel today.  Regarding this theme of sufficiency and selflessness, we hear the testimony of the Apostle Paul from the Epistle, as he tells us, “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;…”[i]

 Let’s stop for a moment and consider the word itself: sufficiency. Sufficiency means “to meet ones needs, or the quality or state of being sufficient.”[ii] Thus, we can draw an elemental conclusion that God meets our needs.  Yes, this is obviously true, but there is so much more that St. Paul is talking about here.  Perhaps a clue is given in what comes next in the Epistle reading, when we hear this: 2 Corinthians 3:6: “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.”[iii]

What is St. Paul talking about here in regards to sufficiency?  Is he saying that God certainly meets our needs, but perhaps in a way that we neither expect nor deserve? Ah…perhaps.  Let’s take a look at the life of St. Paul to gain a better understanding of this.  First of all, we know from his own testimony in the Books of Acts and Philippians that Saul, later Paul, was a Jew’s Jew.  In Acts 26:5, we hear “that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Also in Acts 23:6, he proclaimed, “ Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee.” In Philippians, we hear his famous self  description: (Philippians 3:5-6) “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;  6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.”

Let us “fast forward”, so to speak to today’s selection from II Corinthians.  Here is this model Hebrew, a man totally imbued with the Law, proclaiming that he is no longer sufficient of himself. That is, he is no longer filled with the self-righteousness that comes from slavishly obeying a code. We know that under the Law, one was saved by one’s works, i.e. following the law.  Yet, even St. Paul admits, in several of his epistles, that this is impossible.  Recall last week that we referenced the Mitzvoth, or the Rabbinic additions to Moses’ law, which eventually became 613 commandments. Recall further that under the Law, if one offended in one point, one was considered guilty of all. Thus, here we have an impossibility. No one could obey the Law perfectly, being human and fallible.  This brings to mind the disciples’ astonished question, “Who then can be saved?”, from Matt. 19, when Christ made the amazing statement that it is easier for a camel to go through an eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.  Recall Christ’s amazing answer: With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”[iv]

This brings us back to the discussion of sufficiency.  Just as God is sufficient enough to change the hearts of some who worship money, so that they can love Him and enter the Kingdom of God, so He is sufficient to affect a change in this Pharisee.  The change in St. Paul, due to God’s complete sufficiency, was such that it changed the course of human history through his evangelism and ministry. It was enough that, despite all of the schisms, disagreements, objections and accusations surrounding him, St. Paul was able to proclaim that God is his sufficiency.  He was able to deliver a consistent, coherent message of the Gospel, and to create an apostolic legacy through the laying on of hands that continues unbroken to this day. We in the orthodox Anglican Communion are blessed to continue that apostolic succession without interruption or dismissal. It is our apostolic legacy, and a genuine blessing to us.

One might say, “Father, Stults, that’s all well and good on the corporate level, but what about sufficiency on the individual level?  What does it mean to me?”

Simply this: if we, like the apostle Paul, can proclaim that God is our sufficiency, it means that a dramatic and positive change has happened in our lives. It means that deep down, we have had a shift in allegiance.  No longer do we look to the illusory reinforcements of this life, nor to the deceitfulness of sin in which they are sometimes wrapped, but in the completeness of God in our beings.  Again, what does this mean? Ultimately, if one looks to the temporal realm for ultimate justification, or better said, a complete reaffirmation of one’s peace, one will be disappointed. Just as St. Paul found that adherence to the Law of Moses became insufficient for him, as he became the chief minister to the Gentiles, so we must look to the Limitless love of God to fill our incompleteness. Stated again, when we become lost in the love of Jesus we will find our true selves, and be sufficient. We will, through a daily surrender of the will, and a constant prayer that God’s will be done in us, know that God is all in all. Then, as we go about our daily lives in whatever callings we find ourselves, all will be sufficient.  There will not be a thirsting, empty, ravenous need for self-aggrandizement.  There will not be a craving for something more, something on the horizon, unless it is a craving to know God better and better.  God will be our sufficiency, and we will know it. 

We think that’s when life truly begins for the Christian.  When we say, “life”, we mean, of course, the realization that the Kingdom of God is upon us. Recall the scene from Mark 12, where a scribe asks Christ what is the great commandment in the Law. Recall that Christ answered him with what we know as the Summary of the Law: Love God with all of your being, and love your neighbor as yourself. This same scribe repeats back what Jesus has said, but with the wise conclusion that to love God as much as one can, and to love his neighbor as himself “is more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”[v]  This answer obviously pleased our Lord, because he said, “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God.”[vi] This scribe realized that the “golden kernel” of faith, so to speak, is not transactional, based on works, but is something far more profound.  Life with God is based on relationships: ours to Him, and ours to our fellow man. When we grasp this point, we too are not far from the Kingdom of God.

Our selfhood falls away as our sufficiency in God increases. Not that we ever lose ourselves completely, for we are separate and distinct beings and always will be. This is especially true in our day-to-day struggle with the old man, who is always with us.  Yet, as continue to affirm the sufficiency of God in us, the old man loses his grip on us, and we continue to grow as new creatures in Christ. This growth begins now, today, and continues everyday as we grow in Christ.

Yes, separate and distinct as we are, yet growing in relationship with God, what will be the end of all this?  How can our finitude be merged into His Infinitude?  This is a great mystery and one we cannot answer or begin to comprehend in this realm.  Yet, we do know this: as our realization of His Sufficiency in us grows, we become happier, more joyful and more serene. Our lives in this world, at least from an interior point of view, become better.  Our externals will still be challenging, no doubt about that. In the end, however, it does not really matter what our external conditions are, because in the deep secret recesses of our souls, we are sufficient. As difficult, pressing, and downright troublesome as our daily lives sometimes are, we know one thing as we seek the Father’s Face: all will be well.  As this realization grows, we too will be able to proclaim with St. Paul: ”Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God;”

For this, we give undying thanks and praise to Him who completes all in all: our Lord, our God, and our Sufficiency.

Jude 1:25 “To the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen.” 

[i] II Cor. 3:5
[iii] II Cor. 3:6
[iv] Matt 19:26
[v] Mark 12:33
[vi] Mark 12:34