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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Civilization and the Gospel

Trinity IV, 2015

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church

Luke 6:38 “Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again.”

It’s been said that the Bible contains all the answers to man’s quandaries, no matter what they may be.  Christians claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, infallible and inerrant, containing all truth.  Christians say that no matter what your question or problem, the Bible can answer it, or at least shed light on it in a real and meaningful way. 

That’s a mighty big claim.  “How can a book, written over thousands of years by many, many voices contain such truth?, ask modernists and liberal scholars.  How can such a book that’s been translated into more languages than any other book in history have any semblance of consistency, and how can it have any application to modern folk today? 

That’s an excellent question, one that’s been asked ever since the canons of the Old and New Testaments were finalized.  When critics begin their attack on Christianity, they usually begin with the Bible.  Bring down the Bible, they say, and one can bring down the Christian religion.  Prove the Bible to be ultimately inconsistent or untrue and one can destroy Christianity.  Some sects and cults even have their own versions of the Scriptures, edited and expurgated to fit their own doctrinal views. Thus, as we are all aware, there are those in this world, inspired and energized by Satan, who would like nothing better than to see Christianity fail.

Yet, Christianity prevails.  The Word of God still speaks to people with a gentle force that is un-reckoned in this world.  The Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion are still efficacious to those who use them faithfully.

The Holy Spirit of God still hovers over His People, guarding, guiding and shepherding them.  The promise of Christ still holds true: “Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”  Finally, the Golden Thread of the Gospel, despite two thousand years and innumerable translations, still shines brightly through the pages of the Bible.

That Golden Thread of Truth shines brightly in today’s Gospel as well.  For example, it’s been said that “Reciprocity is the basis for civilization.”  If that’s true, and one can hardly refute that statement, then Jesus Christ has given us some of the greatest truth of all time. 

This portion of the Gospel comes from one of Christ’s great discourses from Luke 6, called “The Sermon on the Plain.”  The entire sermon is simply self-evident truth.   For example, in the section chosen for today’s Gospel, Christ tells us several principles on which we should base our lives, for they provide the basis on which one can build a society.  Allow me to summarize them briefly:
1.      Judge not and you shall not be judged.
2.      The measure that you give is the measure that you get.
3.      Can the blind lead the blind?
4.      The student is not above his master.
5.      Avoid hypocrisy

The first point, “judge not and ye shall not be judged” is a favorite verse that atheists, agnostics the general non-believing population like to use against Christianity.   For example, they say that Christians are “judgmental” when we condemn their unrighteous behavior, whether it is sexual sin, including homosexuality, adultery, the practice of serial marriage, or their drug use; as well as their blatant dishonesty, or their approval of abortion on demand.   “Don’t judge me”, they say, meaning don’t disapprove of my behavior, despite its horrific consequences to the individual and to society. 

The Christian is supposed to go on their way, meekly turning a blind eye to blatant sin and rebellion.  If we say something is wrong, then we are accused of being “judgmental.”  To the modern, godless mindset, there is only one unforgivable sin, the so-called sin of “intolerance.”  Everything else, as long as it works for you, is OK.

Yet, in typical modern inconsistent style, the people of today have many, many rules.  They have a clear sense of right and wrong; it’s just not the same set of rules that we strive to live by.  If you listen to teenagers and “20 somethings”, you will discover that they have many rules, and woe be to those who violate them! Talk about social exclusion!

The point is, we all have rules.  The meaningful question is: whose rules are they?  People today just want their own rules, not the time-tested rules of Truth given by Christ.  It’s the oldest story ever, dating back to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve wanted to make their own rules.  Despite what many humanists and social engineers want to believe, human nature is real and basically unchangeable, absent the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit.

Thus, we are to judge; but according to Christ, when he said in John 7:24 “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment.”  The result of this is that we see the world correctly, make non-malicious judgments and in general, get a better reception from those around us.

The next law is the one that really undergirds society.  It’s been called the “reciprocity rule.”  What it says, is that what you put into something is what you’ll get out of it.  The more you give, the more you get.   It works in finances, it works in the workplace, it certainly works in marriage.  It’s almost too simple, for it says that the more effort, money, time and emotional involvement one invests in something, the more one will receive.  Of course, there are exceptions, as life always has variations, but in general, it works and it works largely.    

Next, Christ uses an apt parable when he said, Luke 6:39” Can the blind lead the blind? shall they not both fall into the ditch?”  Very simply said, if the leader lacks vision, where will the followers be? As we’ve seen at least since 1930’s, the vision of a man-made utopia, without the guidance of the Bible or Christian doctrine, is not a vision at all, but rather a blundering path that leads into the ditch

The point is, we (mankind) really need a Shepherd to stay in the right pasture.  When we depend on His eyes, we will always stay on the right path.

In the middle of this lesson, Christ inserts a seemingly incongruous statement. “the student is not above his master.”  At first glance, this may seem out of place, but when we look at it in the context of these other statements, it makes perfect sense.
 Christ has been teaching us all along about the value and nature of relationships in this lesson.   Do not make unfair or malicious assertions about people, give largely and you will receive largely, and trust your path to a wise and visionary leader, to name the first three rules.  Now, we learn that the student is not above his master. 

Although it was a hard lesson for me to learn, one day I realized that I just didn’t know it all.  I realized that there people who were much smarter, much better educated and certainly more godly than I was.  As the bumper sticker says,
”Those who think they know it all really irritate those of us who do.” Well, the lesson here is humility and the respect for one’s betters.  It’s fair to say humility is one of the greatest (and least practiced) of the virtues.  Yet, it keeps us out of trouble, both temporally and spiritually.  Christ is simply telling us to respect those who have more knowledge, virtue, talent or godliness than we do, learning from them as we can.

The last point is probably the greatest of all: avoid hypocrisy.  Live as you would have others live, treat others as you would have them treat you, and do what you say you will do.  Don’t do things personally that you would condemn in others. In short, have integrity in everything that you do. 

This is one of the greatest lessons Christ can teach us.  When we are consistent in our actions and our speech, and when our actions mirror our beliefs, we are on the way to true godliness and peace. Best of all, we avoid that most common accusation leveled against Christians: “They’re all a bunch of hypocrites.”  You see, when one tries to live a godly life and set high standards, it’s only natural that one will fail occasionally.  This is when our enemies attack us, for they seize upon our occasional failure and hold that up for the norm.  Every time a Jimmy Swaggert figure falls, they rejoice and trumpet the prevalence of hypocrisy in Christianity. What they don’t see are the millions of ordinary Christians going about their lives and trying the best they can to emulate Christ. 

That’s really what we are about today.  We are trying to follow Christ. We are trying to preserve sanity and godly order in a world gone its own way.  We certainly have a good start in these five simple rules.

 As always, keep your eyes fixed firmly upon Christ and all will be well.  As with the rule of reciprocity, the more that we cling to Christ, the more strength, love, joy and peace we will possess.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2015

“He that loveth not knoweth not God..."

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
Trinity I, 2015
7 June, 2015

The 1st Letter of St. John can be referred to a “love letter” from God to us.  Why? Because not only does it come from the apostle “whom Jesus loved”, and who leaned upon His Breast at supper, but also from the only apostle who had the courage to stand at Jesus’ feet while He was crucified.  The others fled out of fear of persecution.  It is evident that John reciprocated Jesus’ love by this action.

So it is that John’s writings speak so consistently and persuasively about the chief quality of God: Love.  In the first sentence of today’s Epistle from 1st John, we read: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. “  [ii] In the entire 4th Chapter of this letter, we see again and again one theme:  God is love.  John tells us : “ Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”[iii]

How are we to know that God is love?  The answer, according to St. John is this: “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.  10 Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”[iv]

Thus, the Love of God is manifested by one monumental event: the coming of Jesus Christ into the World. It is the absolute proof of God’s love for us.  Yes, one can say that God’s love is manifested forth by His Creation and by its beauty and magnificence. One can also say that God’s Love is shown forth by the natural love mankind shows (at times) one to another. Both these statements would be true.  Yet, the love of which mankind is capable is only a faint reflection of God’s overwhelming love for us.

Lest this is too cerebral, and perhaps too abstract, let us bring it down to a human level… picture the greatest earthly king imaginable, say a Nebuchadnezzar, or the Pharaoh of Egypt, or Alexander the Great, at the height of their power. Now, see them stripping off their royal robes, coming down from their exalted thrones, and donning the clothes of an ordinary worker.  Imagine further their taking up a hammer, or a saw and commencing the hard manual labor of a carpenter. Imagine further as they leave this occupation to travel around the countryside, teaching, preaching, and healing, if it were possible. Finally, imagine them, who were once the absolute ruler of all they surveyed, accused falsely, lashed savagely like a common criminal, and then nailed brutally to a wooden cross, to endure an agonizing, horrible torture-death. Additionally, think of these kings, hanging upon their crosses, praying for and forgiving their torturers. The final thing is that they did this to protect their people from terrible danger.

It would never happen.  Not in this fallen world so in love with power, prestige and riches….yet, beloved in Him, it did happen through the incomprehensible love of God. With adoring eyes, we see Christ on the Cross; with hearts aided by the Holy Ghost, our spirits burn with gratitude for what He did for us.  We recognize, to some degree, the terrible danger of complete separation from God, from which He delivered us. Yet, the scope of this beautiful love is too much for us.  It is too hard for us to think of a Love so great that One would go to the Cross for us. We truly cannot understand its magnitude. The scope of it is just too great.

Yet, God’s Love knows no bounds, it has no limits. It cannot be measured by the breadth of men’s minds. It can only be summed up by this: “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit.  14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”[v]  

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

I St. John 4:8[i]
[ii] Ibid
[iii] Op. cit.
[iv] I John 4:9-10
[v] 1 John 4:13-14