Follow by Email

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Let this Mind be in You

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Palm Sunday, March 29, 2010

We hope and pray that this Lent, your Lent, has been productive and rewarding, yielding some spiritual fruit. After all, this is what Lent is all about, preparing your soul for the upcoming Paschal Joy.

Now, we are on the threshold of another church season.  Without, we pray, overstating the obvious, it is the season that defines Christianity, We are now preparing, in earnest, for the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We are getting ready for that spiritually rich and blessed season of Easter. While materially poor when compared with Christmas, it is the more blessed of the seasons simply because it is the raison d’etre for Christianity, its very reason to be.

Yet, we are not here to preach an Easter sermon.  Not yet. While we “strain in the harness”, so to speak, as we press forward towards the blessed Resurrection , it is not yet time.  Today, we deal with the whole, nasty, business of the mock trial of Christ, his betrayal into the hands of sinful, expedient men, and the subsequent, merciless, torture-death inflicted on our Lord.  We read about the “prisoner swap” of Barabbas for Jesus, the just for the unjust feel the burning injustice of it all.  Perhaps we can almost feel our throats burn with hoarseness from shouting, as we fancy ourselves part of the faithful crowd that cried out for Jesus’ release. The coarse mob would have none of it; but, being lashed into a frenzy by the Scribes and Pharisees, they bellowed for Jesus’ death.

We know the rest of the story.  Christ, who had been scourged with the heartless Roman whips, whose ends were laden with sharp metal, was virtually on the point of walking unconsciousness.  How brutal…. Now, Christ was led to the Praetorium to undergo further degradation. He was arrayed in a gorgeous royal robe and mocked by the band of hard Roman soldiers. These were career legionnaires, who had signed up for a single thirty-year hitch, after which they would be pensioned off with land and money. So, why not? They had some cruel fun with this prisoner, this so-called King.

Thus, a mock pageant of adoration began, as the soldiers both mocked Christ and pummeled Him.  Before all this however, the King needed a crown. In a sadistic turn of satanic ingenuity, the soldiers platted a crown of long, sharp Palestinian thorns for Jesus.  This crown they bestowed on Him, not gently laying it on His head for a king, but forcing it down with brute force, as for a usurper of kingly glory. Imagine how the blood flowed! Those of us who have had even a minor scalp wound know.  
Now, not only from his torn and tattered back, lashed with 39 stripes, but from His head flowed the precious liquid.  Ah, Sacred Head, sore wounded!

Although Matthew’s Gospel does not tell of it, from historic devotions such as the Stations of the Cross, we believe that Christ fell three times on his way to the cross.  Weak from loss of blood, fasting and thirsty, he simply couldn’t bear the weight of it.   Simon of Cyrene was compelled to bear his cross for Him.

Now, we come to the Cross.  Christ is stripped before the gaze of the rude crowd; Rough hands drive spikes into his hands or wrists and then into his feet. He is elevated on the cross and there he hung, in speechless agony.  Countless muscle cramps afflicted him, and each agonizing breath required him to press upward on his wounded feet to obtain air.  In every way, this barbarous execution method was an amazing odyssey of pain.  He did this for all of us, for you. It was his hard joy so to do.

This brings us to the topic of St. Paul’s Epistle selection for the day from Philippians 2.  St. Paul tells us Christ humbled himself, and was made like unto us, by sharing in our human nature.  However, stated like this, Christ’s uniqueness is understated.  Christ did not only share in our human nature, He took Humanity into His Divinity.  The human did not become divine, but rather the divine took on humanity. How glorious is this humility!  Christ deigned to lay aside his divine power so He could taste death, real human death for all of us.  Some translations say that He “emptied” himself as He did this, yet in no way did He become any less divine in so doing. The Greek word for this is keno,w,, “to empty.” One heresy said that Christ laid aside his divinity completely during the Passion and was merely human.  Later, this heresy claimed, Christ reassumed His Divinity to rise from the dead.  Suffice it to say that this is totally erroneous and does violence to the dual-nature doctrine of Christ.

One of the mysterious and glorious aspects of the Crucifixion is that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, did consent to suffer and die upon the Cross for us.  If Christ were not God, He could not take on the sins on mankind on the Cross.  If He were not fully Man, the sacrifice would not have been efficacious.

We do not debate either point.  We know that Jesus Christ, perfect Man and Perfect God, suffered and died on the Cross for us.  We do not fully understand, nor are we able to comprehend, the profundity of the Holy Sacrifice. Yet, we take God at His Word and accept it, humbly. We fall before His Cross, speechless and prostrate, ovecome by Love.

Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name”[1]  Christ’s glory is such that all living things should reverence and worship Him, to the exclusion of all else. 
To Christ belong all glory, laud, and honor.  All things in Heaven and Earth should bow at His mention and do him reverence.  This is why we slightly bow our heads at the name of Jesus. This is not mere affectation; it is giving honor and glory to Him who is most deserving.

There will come a day when all eyes shall see Him, as he returns with glory. Much of mankind, the godless and the faithless, will look up and “mourn” as they behold Christ’s glory in the skies. They will see their world coming to an end. Real, eternal judgment is about to proceed on them.

On the other hand, the faithful and the godly, anticipating Christ’s appearance, will look up and give thanks.  Fearful it will be, yet the faithful will look up and say, “My Lord and my God.”

This is what Palm Sunday is all about.  We recognize the price paid for us.  We recognize that Christ hung there for us.  We recognize, in silent adoration, that Christ’s love for us is the reason.

Let us begin Holy Week with this in mind.  As we have borne with it in Lent, for one more week we must bear our own iniquity. While unable to justify ourselves, we can at least say: Christ did this for me.

Philippians 2:9-11  “ that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth,  11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”                                                                                                  

Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever.   AMEN

[1] Phil. 2:9

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Children of Promise 2015

Fourth Sunday of Lent 2015
“The Children of Promise…”
Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
March 15, 2015

Good Morning!  I pray you are having a blessed Lent, as we prepare our hearts and souls for the world’s most singular moment: the celebration of the glorious resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ resurrection is the culmination of a grand theme that God revealed to man through His Son.  That theme, prevalent this Sunday, is one of promise and Grace, reflected by The Collect for the Day and the Epistle from Galatians IV.  Allow me to repeat the key phrase from the Collect:  the “comfort of thy grace.”

There are a wide variety of meanings for “grace”, but let us consider these two: first, The Gift of God to humankind.  This means the infinite love, mercy, favor, and goodwill shown to humankind by God. The second corollary to this is: Freedom from sin. In Christianity, this means the condition of being freed from or restrained from sin by confession and repentance to God.

In light of the Collect, both of these definitions make sense.  We, who do deserve to be punished when compared to the ultimate, perfect holiness of God, are most graciously “relieved” through God’s infinite love for us.  Using the second definition as well, we are freed from sin in and through Jesus Christ.

In light of the Epistle from Galatians, St. Paul expounds further on this concept of grace.  He uses the term “promise” to indicate the certainty of our life in God. Just as Abraham received his promise from God in his heir, Isaac, so we receive the promise of God to us in the form of eternal life.

In the epistle for today, it’s important to recognize that St. Paul was not merely engaging in pleasant philosophical discussions about grace, salvation, promise, etc. We know that he was fighting for the infant Church’s very survival.  We know that he grappled with all of the issues we face today, but to a much larger degree.  In the case of the Galatians, he was exhorting them to stay true to the Gospel, and was trying to deflect the specious and erroneous doctrines put forth by a group called the Judaizers.  This group literally shadowed his steps as he planted churches. They had the goal of turning new Christians away from Christ, back to the whole lot of Jewish ceremonial law, including circumcision. Only in this way, they preached, could one be a devout follower of Jesus. 

 Much of the Epistle to the Galatians is devoted to the denial of this heresy. To do this, St. Paul developed an allegory, using Abraham’s two sons, Ishmael and Isaac. Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Sarah’s handmaid, Hagar, was born when the promised heir failed to appear according to Abraham’s timetable. Thus, they tried to force the issue by producing a child through Hagar, Sarah’s maid.  

Yet, we know that God is not frustrated. In due time, Isaac appeared, the true, long-awaited son of Sarah and Abraham. He was the child of promise. Ishmael, the child of man’s design, would become the father of the Arab nations and would be a great man in his own right. Yet, he was not the legitimate heir of Abraham. He was cast out from Abraham’s family.

St. Paul’s point is this: Hagar and Ishmael stand for Mt. Sinai, where the Jews received the law from God, the Old Covenant.  At first, a good thing, but over time the Law became so complicated and so convoluted that is served no other purpose but to remind man how sinful he was.  Being perverted by the Jewish priestly class’ endless additions to it, the Law grew to be a stringent instrument of negativity and spiritual death. It was a law of bondage.

On the other hand, Sarah and Isaac represent the New Covenant, symbolized by Jerusalem.  This is the gospel of promise and of comfort.  St Paul says it is much more fruitful than the old, producing many spiritual offspring.  Thus, while Hagar symbolizes Ishmael and the bondage of the Law, Sarah symbolizes Isaac: promise and freedom. 

This goes to the very heart of what we can glean from Scripture today. Basically, the question is this: are we as Christians bound by the Law, or are we free in Christ by the Gospel? That is, to what degree are we to be bound up in legalism and outward norms of behavior versus the liberating effect of the Holy Spirit on the human heart? In short, are we to have no other law but “to love one another”, as Christ commanded us?

This is a very difficult question. To answer the question, are we bound by Law or freed by Gospel, the answer is yes.  It is not a situation of either/or but both/and. 

We are bound by Law in the Church, but not to the death-giving law of the rabbis. They sought to regulate and protect the pious Jew from any chance of pollution by sin. Yet, it was impossible to keep the Law, and as St. Paul tells us, the Law could only remind us how sinful we were.

Yet, we Christians do strive to keep a very important part of the old Law. Our basic law is the Ten Commandments.  This is the roadmap for our journey in life and the Christian’s modus operandi.

However, if this were all the instructions we had in life, our journey would be barren indeed. The Commandments are too sterile and too basic by themselves to be completely fulfilling.  That is why Christ added the great “law of love” to the commandments, from John 13:34: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” 

This is the “flesh and bones” that Christ added to the Ten Commandments.  We are to follow the Commandments, yes, but we are to do it with love.  That is the difference.  While we Christians are bound by law, both secular and sacred, we are to adhere to these norms with love, not by legalism.

St. Paul echoes this in Romans 13:8 “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law”; and in Romans 13:9-10:  “For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” 

Love is the universal constant here. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came, as he said, not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it. As such, Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect Man, is the living bridge between the Testaments. Foretold in the Old, revealed in the New, He is God the Father’s last, best, and complete testimony to mankind. Christ and only Christ could both preach and practice perfect love. Not only in his acts of healing and kindness, but in his monumental, complete Atonement on the Cross. This is most excellent expression of love ever proclaimed.

This brings us full circle, back to the concept of grace and promise.  Jesus has promised us eternal life with Him. We are “inheritors” and “joint heirs” of the Kingdom of Heaven.  This makes us Christians the most blessed of all people, as we look for our full consummation  in Heaven, glorifying and praising God for ever and ever. This is glorious.  This is wonderful.  It is God’s free gift to us and it is His promise to us as Christians.

Thus, are we bound by law or freed by Gospel….?  The answer is…Yes.

GRANT, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.