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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Grace and Peace from God

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Twenty-Second Sunday after Trinity, 2014
 November 16, 2014

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 Philipi, 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 to come after Paul’s martyrdom in Rome 

Of interest here also is mention of two of the Church’s historic orders, as St. Paul mentions the bishops and deacons in the church at Philipi. This is interesting and 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 to what they term as the “primitive church”, while at the same time they reject the historic orders of the 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.

Why, one might ask, is the not the office of the presbytery, or the priesthood, mentioned?  Simply, because that at this time it did not exist.  It did not come into being until 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.  Thus, the office of priest was created.
The reason we mention this is twofold. First, we want to emphasize the validity of clerical orders in the Church, and by so doing, show that we orthodox Christians are striving to preserve the Church according to its earliest model. Churches who have cast aside the historic offices of Bishop, Deacon, and Priest are actually weakening their claims to be “primitive” Christians. Suffice it to say that those bodies that have retained the historic clerical model are exactly in line with Scripture. Suffice it to say that those churches, such as the Anglican, Roman, and Orthodox Communions, who have kept the historic lines of bishop, priest, and deacon have a very desirable and valid form of church polity.

The second reason we mention this is to emphasize the orderly nature of our God.  As most of us have heard many times, is the simple truth that 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 in 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 this prophecy from Jeremiah, taken from the lectionary for the upcoming 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 and re-living the spectacle of salvation from its prophetic beginning in Advent upcoming in just two weeks, 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 and of the deliverance from Egypt.  He is not just the God of the Law and the Prophets.  In the more perfect revelation of God, the people will now affirm that their God will restore His People 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.  Thus, while the deliverance from our original state of bondage was wonderful, symbolized by the Jew’s deliverance from Egypt, their salvation was not yet complete.

 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, 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, our eternal home with God and in God.  It is the perfect country which we all seek and for which our souls ultimately long for.  For us Gentiles, it is brought about by the Gospel message of the New Testatment. 

Thus, while the first statement glorifies God in the Old Testament witness to him, 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 had already been accomplished through the King about whom Jeremiah prophesied. Hear it again, please: “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, he whom 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 in the upcoming 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 Jeremiah’s prophecy.

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 upcoming 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.

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.