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Saturday, May 11, 2013

“Charity shall cover a multitude of sins…”

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
The Sunday after Ascension Day

May 12, 2013
“Charity shall cover a multitude of sins…”
1 Peter 4:7-8 “The end of all things is at hand; be ye therefore sober and watch unto prayer. And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves; for charity shall cover a multitude of sins.”

So speaks the Apostle Peter from the today’s Epistle selection. Coming from arguably the most “human” and “real” Apostle, this is a wonderful and blessed statement.  After all, Peter is one figure in the New Testament that perhaps all of us can identify with in some way or another. If one has a bold or brash nature, or if one has acted boldly or brashly in their lifetime, (and who hasn’t?), there is Peter. If one has ever been afraid of telling the truth in the face of strong consequences, there is Peter.  And yet, if one has ever boldly and firmly proclaimed, “Thou are the Christ; thou art the Son of the living God”, there is Peter as well.

There can be no doubt that Peter became a new and better man AFTER his denial of Jesus Christ. Yet, unlike Judas Iscariot, who allowed Satan tempt him into the absolute depths of despair, so much so that he took his own life, something better happened to Peter. In some strange and mysterious way, the Holy Spirit changed him into a leader of the apostolic band, at first in Jerusalem, and later in Rome. He became a pillar of the early Church, and went on to inspire and to lead his early Christian colleagues.  In short Peter is a picture of what God can do with us when we allow Him to do so.

Thus, perhaps it is so fitting that Peter tells us that “Charity will cover a multitude of sins…” He is not speaking of merely the relief of the poor and needy, although that is certainly a component.  No doubt he is speaking of the form of love termed “caritas” in the Greek.  Unlike the other forms of love, namely eros (romantic, sensual love), agape (fellowship), and philios (brotherly love), caritas is something else, and may be the most interesting of all. Why might we say that?

We will submit to you that charity is perhaps more complex and many faceted than the other forms of love, although this is certainly a risky statement.  The romantic will certainly disavow this, as will the socialite; even the one concerned with making great strides in the betterment of mankind through brotherhood.  Yet, if we consider each of the loves just mentioned, note that all of them have some reward or end in themselves, to some degree.  After all, the romantic seeks the possession of intimacy with the other person, while the one engaged in agape seeks fellowship and communal activities as the end of their activity.  The same goes for the one seeking to increase brotherhood and understanding. Again, there is a reward, or payback, if you will, in each of these. Not that any of this is bad; far from it.  Instead, we bless God, and exclaim, “Ecce, quam bonum!” (Behold, what a good and wonderful thing this is….)

No, what we seek to do is to draw a distinction in the quality of love contained in caritas (charity).  We want to explore why St. Peter would tell us that it covers a multitude of sins.  Consider this: if one will accept that charity has no end in itself, no inherent reward of payback in the same way as eros, agape, or even philos do, thus, charity is more disinterested than the other forms of love. Note, please, that we said disinterested, not un-interested, for there is a huge difference. Charity seeks nothing but a benign view of all men and all situations.  It seeks not to judge harshly or rashly.  It seeks to have “unconditional positive regard” for all. Thus, when Peter says it will cover a multitude of sins, he may be on to something.

Properly done, a charitable view frames one’s whole outlook on life and on the World. Instead of having a harsh, judgmental outlook or predisposition, one will have a milder, less caustic view of his environment and those whom he interacts in it. Instead of leaping to judgment or condemnation, one can “step back”, so to speak, and allow for the Holy Spirit to temper one’s own inherent acidity.  This allows one to have a more moderate reaction to things, and perhaps even less heartburn…

When charity rules in one’s heart, it leads to an expression of that chief cardinal virtue in one’s daily activity.  This, no doubt, makes life more pleasant for the person practicing charity, and of course, for those that person meets, who ordinarily might be on the receiving end of their scorn and denigration.  Think of all the wasted energy and stress it takes to be negative! Now, think of that same energy focused in a new, more benign direction…

Now, perhaps we can come closer to what the Apostle means when he says that charity will cover “the multitude of sins.”  Think of all the sins avoided when one practices, habitually, the virtue of charity. For a succinct discussion of this, we need only to recall St. Paul’s stirring recap of charity found in Cor 13:4   1 Corinthians 13:1 - 14:1: “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.  2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.  3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.  4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,  5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;  6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;  7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.  8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.  9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.  10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.  11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.  12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 

It’s very difficult for us to top that summation. We won’t even attempt to do so.  Yet, even as St. Paul tells us about charity, he doesn’t tell us how to achieve it. When one considers Paul’s exhaustive knowledge of the failings of man, learned through hard experience, as he suffered rejection and assault on his missionary journeys,  one certainly knows it doesn’t come from the heart of Man.  No, there must be another source.

And so there is. As with all aspects of one’s walk with Jesus, it is one based on dependence and trust. We know how hard this is to hear and accept, we thoroughly modern and self-sufficient people, yet it is true.  We who are Christians have to continually let God form our behavior through godly submission and acceptance for His Will for our lives.  In short, without the “bridle of the Holy Spirit” on our rough and ready natures, charity is virtually impossible.

That is certainly not to say that non-Christians can’t be charitable.  That would be wrong, for we all know people, although not religious, who behave well and decently in their lives, even charitably.  What we are saying is that their source of love for mankind comes from a humanistic source, perhaps based on agape or philos, but not necessarily caritas.  Of course, being ultimately human-based, it has its limits.  True love inspired by the Holy Spirit is divne, and therefore inexhaustible.  There is a difference. 

Unfotunately, one who seeks to better mankind from a humanistic point of view must ultimately turn to government as the source of good and the arbiter of behavior.  This, in turn, means more laws and regulations, and thus less freedom.  So, the end result is that we have less charity than before, because it is restricted, or constrcted, by government.

Contrast that with the free, unlimited love of God expressed in godly charity. Here is where we see the difference, for as charity moves and is expressed, more freedom occurs and more pure love is shown. As the Holy Spirit moves in our lives and we allow the love of God inside us to focus outward, the condition of the world changes, just a bit. When we really know and accept the love our Heavenly Father has for us, it has to make us more buoyant and joyful.  We pray that this sense of love becomes so overwhelming that is spills out around our edges into the world beyond.  That is when we can begin to practice charity habitually. Then, it is not the forced smile, or the “we should be nice, because we should” syndrome.  It is real love, real charity, and real caritas for all we meet.  That is when charity shall cover a multitude of sins,”  For, we have been transformed into different people, who see love as their native state,

It doesn’t come from us. It comes from the Source and Font of all love, in all its forms.  It comes from the One who suffered the worst the World could do to him, so that He could profess the ultimate Love for it, and for us.

Let us all bless and praise the Lord for that unspeakable gift. Let us all pray that we may practice charity habitually in our lives.

1 Corinthians 13:13 - 14:1   13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Spirituality and Action

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
The Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday)
 May 5, 2013

“Spirituality and Action”
James 1:22  22 But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
John 16:23-24   23 And in that day ye shall ask me nothing. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you.  24 Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.

Imagine this scene:  two men, friends, Christians, are having breakfast together in a local diner.  After ordering and receiving their coffee, one man remarks to the other, “Man, the spirits are bad today.  On the drive over here, I had to rebuke a lust demon three times. Then, some guy cut me off, and I had to deal with an anger spirit. Wow…”  His friend replied, “Yeah, man, I know what you mean. You know business has been tough lately.  On my drive here, I had to rebuke a regret demon, as well as a bitterness demon.  You’re right, they are really active today.”

Sounds pretty far-fetched, doesn’t it? To our modern, rationalist minds, this is just crazy…After all, there aren’t such things as “lust demons” or “anger spirits”, or “regret demons”, are there.  Right?  Really?  What if people really spoke this way?  What if we actually realized the raw spiritual activity around us?  What if we actually recognized and dealt with the spiritual forces affecting us every day?  Once again, to many modern Christians, and certainly to the modern rationalist, this is pure superstition.  “It simply can’t be. Spirits are simply products of man’s imagination.”  Really…
Yet, it wasn’t always seen this way.  It was said that in Constantinople, one of the world’s greatest Christian cities until its overthrow by Islam in the middle 15th century, even in the barbershops one could hear discussions about the Holy Trinity and the nature of God Himself. Religion and Christianity was freely discussed by all. Also, in Medieval Europe, there was a very high recognition of spirits, both angelic and demonic. One might say that the Medieval world, with all its “backwardness”, was actually more accurate than the post-modern society of today. Some believe that their recognition of the spiritual world was far more correct than our blindness to it.

This priest would submit to you that all of us are engaged in a spiritual battle, in some way, every day.  The problem is, most people, even Christians, are not aware of it, and therein lies the real danger for them. If we ignore the spiritual realities around us, we are in a much more dangerous state than we realize.  Recall if you will, from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, how Uncle Screwtape, the senior tempter, tells his neophyte nephew, Wormwood, that one of Satan’s greatest weapons is convincing the world that he doesn’t exist.  How true, how sadly true.  Instead of being spiritually attuned, many, or even most modern folk go blithely along in their humanistic arrogance to their own spiritual peril. In fact, the onset of a spiritual attack is usually so subtle and so insidious that even the mature Christian may not realize that he or she is being assaulted until they are well into the experience itself.  This priest can’t tell you how many times this exact experience has happened to him. When the priest feels depression, lust, regret, or anger to an inordinate degree, he often doesn’t realize the source until he is in its grips.  Then, the Holy Spirit comes to my aid, and I am able to recognize and rebuke the spirits. After rebuking the spirit in the Name of Jesus, this priest feels a lightening of his spirit, and God’s Sunlight pours into my soul again.

This may sound terribly Fundamentalist, but it is very important to the soul who wants to “grow in grace as he grows in age”, to paraphrase the statement from Family Morning Prayer in the back of the Prayer Book. We have the power to control our temperament and our outlook with prayer.  One way to do this is to recognize the various spirits seeking an audience with our your soul. If in the words of St. John, if that spirit cannot confess that Jesus is the Christ, that spirit must not be heeded.  In fact, that spirit needs to be rebuked in the name of Jesus Christ and sent packing back to the infernal regions from whence he came.  You see, you, the individual Christian, have the power to use Jesus’ name to control who you speak to spiritually, and more importantly, who speaks to you.
Remember, St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:10  “There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world, and none of them is without signification.”  When you have thoughts that don’t feel like your own, take a moment and ask, is this thought (spirit) able to confess Christ? If so, it will remain.  If not, the thought will flee in horror and loathing.

Right now, you are probably thinking, “Whoa….Fr. Stults has gone off the deep end.  Voices in my head, indeed….crazy…” Well, this priest does know that we are strange creatures, with one foot in the physical world, and one foot in the spiritual world.  This is owing to the Trinitarian nature.  We too, reflect the glory of God in  our makeup, for we too have three basic parts (or “persons” if you will: mind, body, and soul.  Note please, that two of our parts are ethereral, they can’t be touched, tasted, or handled.  Yet, please tell me if your mind, or your soul isn’t real.  In fact, we will submit to you that they are more real than your body, for they last forever.

As we have said many times in the past, and will, no doubt, say many times in the future, the seemingly “real” things around us are solid and tangible, yes, but they are not permanent. All of the material objects around us, and yes, we ourselves, will fall into decay, someday.  Our souls, our spirits, the “stuff’ that really makes us “us”, will last forever. It, being invisible (at least in this realm), yet incredibly real, will have no ending.  Once again, St. Paul instructs us out of 2 Corinthians 4:18 - 5:1  “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”
Once again, we Christians, while rejoicing and using this world’s good as a gift from God, do not put our trust in it, for it is not able to save our soul.

So, what, you may ask, does any of this have to do with today’s lessons from Holy Writ?  Basically, this “spirituality stuff” is all well and good, but it sure doesn’t fill my gas tank or buy me a loaf of bread; to which we reply, really?

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to ask in His Name, and we will receive.  He tells the disciples that up to point, they have asked nothing.  Christ tells them to ask, they “your joy may be full.”[i] In this case, Jesus is telling his disciples (and us) that we are to ask Christ for all things, that our joy may be full.  There is no doubt in my mind that this asking extends to all aspects of life, both material and spiritual. You might think that this concerns just “things”, but it goes much farther than that.  In fact, this asking pertains to one of most important prayers a Christian can ever pray, which coincides with that great Feast of the Church upcoming, Pentecost, or as we Anglicans call it, Whitsunday.  What prayer are we talking about? Simply that wonderful prayer that the Holy Spirit come to us and make His abode with us. As we have spoken of recently, we need not be alone, ever, unless we desire to be.  If we have asked our Father, through the intercession of the Son, that the Comforter come to live with us, and be with us, we are never alone.  Praise God!

Thus, when Christ tells us to ask, he is asking us to seek a closer relationship with Him.. Yes, that certainly means to ask for our material needs, of which Our Father is acutely aware.  He knows what we need, and we should certainly seek those things which are needful from Him… Even those things which are not especially needful may be asked for, as well.  It’s just that things may not coincide with God’s Will for us.  This, coming from the man who used to ask God to help find his golf balls when a boy…..
The point is, we are to ask, that “our joy may be full.” In our asking, we should ask that whatsoever we ask for accords with God’s Will. In so doing, we are seeking to be in God’s Will in all things.
This is a good and worthy prayer.  All of this should be done with the goal of strengthening our relationship with God.  In so doing, all of us will find that the quality of our lives, despite our circumstances, will be greatly enhanced.

So far, all of this  has dealt with the purely spiritual, and this is very important.  There is no doubt that the basis for a healthy life is a sound, balanced spiritual orientation.  Yet, as our Epistle from St. James reminds us, one cannot simply abandon the physical and the material Most of us, except for cloistered monastics, have to live in the here and now, every day.  By the by, as an aside, life inside a monastery or a convent still has plenty of the world about it.  Unfortunately, lest one thinks that the enclosed religious life is perfect, let us remember that man’s fallen nature always follows him.  It may not be so pronounced, but it is there.

St. James’ wonderful epistle is such a wonderful “reality check” for all of us.  James strips away the gloss of surface holiness to tell us that aside from a healthy spiritual orientation, one must act.  One must live one’s faith. In fact, when one does do things worthy of a Christian, one really completes the Christian life.  Yes, one must pray, one must worship, and one must act.  In James’ wonderful words, James 1:27 - 2:1  27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  

Let us ask God, in our asking, to lead us to do the things we need to complete our spiritual life.  We should pray, we should ask, and we should do as we are called to do. 

These are the keys to a fulfilling Christian life.  Glory be to God.

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

[i] John 16:24