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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Holy! Holy! Holy!

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
June 15, 2014

Trinity Sunday 2014

Let us all praise and bless God today….Why is today, Trinity Sunday, a special and wonderful day? To this query, the average person, and even the average Christian, will scratch his head and mutter, “I dunno…”

When one truly considers this Sunday, it should be special for all Christians, big and small, old and young, and all those who love the Lord.

Once again, why? Let us answer that question by saying that today we are celebrating the central mystery of the Christian faith, out of which all other mysteries flow.  Today, we affirm the wonderful mystery of the Holy Trinity. We ponder anew the mind-boggling nature of God, as we recognize the makeup of the Divine Godhead: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  Today, we are reminded of the completely peculiar and distinctive nature of Christianity at its very core.

Recall that God is one Being, in which there are three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Yet, there are not three Gods.  There are not three Fathers.  There are not three Sons. There are not three Holy Spirits.  There is one Father, one Son, and one Holy Ghost, all who are God, and all who are co-eternal, co-existent, and co-eternal.  All three Persons of the Holy Trinity are God, yet the Father is not the Son, nor the Holy Spirit.  The Son is not the Father, nor the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is not the Father, nor the Son.  Yet, all are God, without co-mixture, or confusion. 

Confused yet?  Does your brain hurt yet?  It gets better.... Even though the members of the Holy Trinity are co-equal, why does Jesus say in John 14:28, “…for my father is greater than I.” Isn’t this an apparent contradiction to historic theology?   No.  Jesus is inferior to His Father in respect to His manhood, yet He is equal to his Father in respect to his Godhood. As far as the Divine Community is concerned, Jesus is equal to his Father, for, as He said in John 10;30, “I and my Father are one.”  This statement so infuriated the Jews, that they picked up stones to stone Him.

So it has always been with the Holy Trinity.  For those not of the community of faith, it is a source of infuriation, or of disbelief, or of scorn. St Paul once remarked in 1 Corinthians 1:23: “But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling-block, and unto the Greeks foolishness. “  The same can be said about the Holy Trinity.  This central mystery is also the chief stumbling-block for many Christians.  It is also foolishness for many. But, here it is: it is the chief truth of orthodox Christianity, one that must be affirmed to be saved, in the words of the Athanasian Creed.

Let’s explore this a little more….unless one has the gift of faith, one cannot affirm the Trinity.  Recall that every single cult, Christian or not, does not affirm it.  They do not, because they cannot.  This is a mystery that can only be affirmed with the help of the Holy Ghost, in much the same way that one can say, “Jesus is Lord” with the Holy Ghost.

Here’s the big point, beloved. One must believe in the Trinity to be saved. Why? Simply because one must believe in the right nature of God to be saved.  What is that nature?  It is the nature of God as revealed in Scripture: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

We as Christians must never get caught up in the erroneous concept that everyone can believe what he or she wants, and yet be saved.  Remember, just because we believe something does not bind God to it, nor change His Holy Will.  Yet, there are an alarmingly growing number of people who adopt this semi-Universalist view.  They believe that since they are basically “good” people, God wouldn’t dare send them to Hades, or eternal death, or whatever. 
We can embrace this error, or we can seek some other way, but it does not change who or what God is.  It does not change the fact that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  It does not change the fact that no one comes to the Father except by Him.

Sounds terribly absolutist, doesn’t it? Surely there must be a softer, more individualistic, more humanistic way to salvation.  Surely there must be a way where this Trinity business is nice, but not absolutely necessary to salvation. Surely there must be a way whereby all men can be saved, without all this theology.

Well, no…. consider John 14:6:  “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” This doesn’t leave much “wiggle room.”  One must either accept Jesus as one’s Lord and Savior, thereby accepting His gracious gift of salvation and eternal life, or not.  If one chooses not, then that choice has consequences.  At the Last Day, when we all stand before the Throne of Judgment, our choice will be known.  Then, we will truly understand the words of Christ from Matthew 22:14:”For many are called, but few are chosen.”  All mankind is called by Jesus’ universal call of grace from the Cross, but not all are blessed with the gift of faith, for some mysterious reason. On that fateful day, those making other professions will be judged accordingly.  Then, the separation will occur.

Thus, let us all praise and bless God for all of His benefits to us, not the least of which is this precious gift of faith. We in this room can affirm the reality of the Trinity, even though we don’t understand it.... We can affirm the Lordship of Jesus Christ, although we certainly can’t understand His makeup as perfect God and perfect Man.  Nor do we understand the enormity of His sacrifice for us.  Yet, we believe and bow our heads in love, reverence, and worship.  This gift doesn’t come of us, but from the Holy Ghost.  Only he can visit us and grant us the ability to believe that Jesus Chris is the only-begotten Son of the Father.  Only the Holy Ghost can grant us the ability to believe that God the Father loves us so much that He gave His only Son for our redemption. Only the Holy Ghost is our constant companion to lead, instruct, comfort, and strengthen us. When we believe these things, we affirm the Trinity, and when we affirm the Trinity, we affirm our salvation.

Thus, do we have cause for celebration today?  Do we have a reason to give thanks to God with buoyant spirits and enkindled hearts?  Do we say to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, “we thank thee, we praise thee, and we glorify thee?” Yes, yes and yes….


Amen.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

First Fruits

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
The Fourth Sunday after Easter
 May 18, 2014

James 1:18 ” … so that we might be, as it were, the first fruits among His creatures. “

Allow me to have you consider one thought for today: first fruits.
This is the major insight available to us today from the Word of God, taken from the Epistle of James.  In this important passage, something meaningful is bestowed on the people of God as we see the major theme of first fruits shining clearly through.

Let us briefly consider one of most instructive, yet terse, books in the New Testament, the Book of James.  It was a book that was not admitted into the canon of the New Testament without some controversy, according to John Calvin.  He mentions that he accepts it as having apostolic authority, but not without noting that he believes it was written, not by James the son of Zebedee, but rather James the son of Alphaeus. This is the same James whom Paul mentioned in his Epistle to the Galatians as one of the ‘pillars” of the Church. Calvin’s reason for thinking this is the fact that Herod martyred James the son of Zebedee soon after Our Lord’s resurrection.[1]

At any rate, as interesting as this may be to Biblical scholars and to those of us interested in Biblical orthodoxy, the real message comes from James’ instruction in righteousness. James tells us that every good and perfect gift comes from God, with whom is no “is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”  In other words, all good comes from God. In fact, every “perfect” gift comes from God as well.

While we would not doubt that, being fully persuaded of God’s absolute goodness, James wrote this in answer to those who felt that God brought forth evil as well as good.[2]  We Christians believe that God does not bring forth evil, for this is against His nature.  Notwithstanding this, it is likely that God allows men to exercise their natural sinful impulses in order to accomplish some divine purpose.  For example, in the Old Testament, the impulses and desires of a suzerain like Nebuchadnezzar served God’s purposes, as he allowed him to conquer many peoples, including Israel and Judah.  Later, God would allow the apostasy of Judah to follow her natural consequences as she rebelled against God, her heavenly ruler, and also against Nebuchadnezzar, her earthly ruler.  This rebellion, both on a theological and temporal level, led to the destruction of the Temple and much of Jerusalem, including its wall.  This was the beginning of sorrows for the Jews of the Southern Kingdom, as their personal heterodoxy led to national rebellion and to its natural consequences.

Yet, as important as this information is, it is not the real message in this passage, which James reveals next.  He tells us that God brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits among his creatures. We are called to be something fresh, something new to mankind and to the world. We are to be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to wrath. We are to put away “all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness” in order that we may receive the word of salvation engrafted in our souls.  To accomplish this, we are to be doers, not just hearers of the word. By remembering this call to action, we will remember who we are and our calling.  In short, we are to be the “first fruits” of righteousness.  We are to show forth new life.

Thus, in James’ mind, receiving the word means acting on it as well.  We are not simply to hear, nod our head, and walk away.  Doing this, we may very well forget what we have heard, just as a man may forget his own looks after viewing them in a mirror. No, we are to act upon the Word as it impacts our soul.  We are to “look into the perfect law of liberty” and abide in it, becoming habitual in doing as well as hearing. As we do this, we will truly become the first fruits of God and do what pleases Hm.

Yet, having patience with ourselves, as God certainly does, we must realize that we will not become holy at all once.  Returning once again to John Calvin, we hear:”And this doctrine is very useful, for spiritual generation is not a work of one moment. Since some remnants of the old man ever abide in us, we must necessarily be through life renewed, until the flesh be abolished; for either our perverseness, or arrogance, or sloth, is a great impediment to God in perfecting in us his work.”

Just as Calvin recognized, as did Martin Luther, that the “old man” is persistent in his ways, we who wish to be holy someday must be patient today. Our growth in holiness may be more immediate, or it may be the work of a lifetime.  Yet, let us all begin this important work.  Let us beseech God that He sees fit to call us to repentance and new life in Him. Let us ask Him to renew us, build us, restore us and empower us.

If we hear the Word of God and act upon it, we will find new life. As we begin to be both hearers and doers of the Word, we will note the spiritual health of our being, full of the grace and strength of God.  We will know that God has accomplished this and we will act accordingly, “not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer.” [3] In so doing, we shall be blessed in all that we do.

James 1:22 “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”

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

 

AMEN




[1] http://www.biblestudyguide.org/comment/calvin/comm_vol45/htm/vi.htm
[2] Calvin, op.cit.
[3] James 1:25