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Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Calling and Condition

The Rev.  Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
5th  Sunday in Trinity 2016

Our Gospel from St. Luke brings forth some interesting questions. How does God call us?
How do we know when God calls us? What is the nature of our call? Finally, how do we respond?

First of all, we know that God calls each of us in different ways and fashions. Each man and woman hears the call of God in a different, yet intensely personal way. Our Lord speaks to us all individually, if we are inclined to listen.  What is fascinating is how He does it.

To His glory, God uses both unity in diversity and diversity in unity when calling us.  What do we mean by that? Simply that Our Lord uses the same general means to call us, yet it is perceived and received in a myriad of ways.

God uses both a general call as well as an individualized one that all men are issued at some time in their life.

The general call of grace is one that was issued from the Cross. Christ, through His one- time Sacrifice, called all men unto Him. John 12:32 says:And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”. There was, and is, a general outpouring of grace from this act. Some hear and are moved to respond. Their response may be a great commitment, a greater yearning, or even just a greater curiosity. At the same time, there are many who never listen to this general call of grace.

 All people also receive an individual call from God as well.  He calls all people, someway, sometime in their life. Many people are led to follow that call. These people are destined to grow in the faith to whatever degree God has willed for them.  They are to enjoy the fellowship of the Spirit and of the Church. There are also many other people who are called, but do not answer. That is a profound mystery known only to God Himself. 

Within the general call of mankind there is a special subset for those whose call is deeper and with a more persistent nature.  These people respond with a stirring of the heart and of the spirit to God.  These are those souls for whom the Spirit does not return empty. Rather, through the advocacy and facilitation of the Holy Spirit, there is a communication, a link, a response that says “yes” to Him.

The question is, how do we know when God call us and what is the nature of that call?  This is difficult, and the answer may not be satisfactory to those who admire clear, crisp answers. The reason is that one can’t give a perfect answer, except that one will simply “know” when He calls us. Here is where the diversity in unity is apparent.  While His Call is general, our perception of it is individual and specific. As a younger man, searching for God, it was frustrating trying to hear the voice of God, most probably because I was seeking the wrong things. God is heard more often in the quiet, small voice than in the babbling of many tongues.

Also, while “crash-boom” spiritual experiences are more dramatic, they are less common and may be less meaningful over time as well.  How many of us have known someone who has had a remarkable conversion experience and has turned their life over to Christ, only to revert to their old, unsatisfactory ways some time afterward?  Unfortunately, it happens, especially if one is looking for the quality of the experience, rather than the durable nature of a changed life.

Consider the” home-grown” conversion; one that is private, deep and meaningful, without the spiritual fireworks. In the quiet interior of our souls, we sense God’s call. This may begin as a “drawing towards”. Something in us simply wants something, although it is not always apparent what that is. It is also an unfortunate fact that a calling comes usually not from a sense of comfort, but discomfort. That is, only in answering the call will that soul find peace. 

Despite what our call may have been, or how it was received, the last and most important question is: how do we respond to it? Let’s look to our Gospel selection for answers.

First, we recognize that Christ was simply following ancient Jewish tradition in gathering disciples to him.  Jewish doctors of the law often recruited disciples to teach Torah.[1] Yet Christ did this not by going to the Temple to select the “best and the brightest.” Instead, He went to the lake of Genessaret and taught the common crowds as they “pressed” upon him by the lake.  They were hungry to hear him, for the people perceived the truth in what He was saying, as well as they way He delivered it. You’ll recall that one of the Gospels (Mat. 7:29) says, “For he taught them as one having authority and not as the scribes.”   In this case, as He was teaching by the Sea of Galilee, the people were actually “pressing” Him into the water!

Jesus needed a place to teach, so He enters into one of the fishing boats nearby and asks the fisherman to push off a little into the lake so He can address the crowd.  After speaking for a while, he turns to the fisherman, Simon Peter, and tells him, “Launch out into the deep, and let down your nets for a draught.” Simon’s answer is instructive: he says, “Master, we have toiled all the night, and have taken nothing: nevertheless at thy word I will let down the net.  In other words, “we’ve worked all night, we’ve caught nothing and we’ve even cleaned our nets, but if you say so, we’ll let down the net.”

Jesus’ calm, commanding presence compels him to do so and his attitude changes dramatically.  Why? The miraculous draft of fish is so great that the net begins to break and they fill both boats full to the point of sinking!  Note Peter’s reaction.He recognizes the ultimate holiness there with him, and is terrified. Recall that an ancient Hebrew believed that if one were to come in contact with God’s holiness, the result would be instant destruction.

Jesus calms Simon and issues His call, saying “Fear not; from henceforth thou shalt catch men” He calls Peter just as he is, where he is. This is exactly what God does for us.  He calls us as we are and where we are.  He calls us “To launch out into the deep and to let down our nets for a draught.”

We, like Peter, are often afraid, or resistant.  Perhaps we too have “toiled all the night” in the deep, dark places of our souls “and have taken nothing.” 

That is, until Christ calls us, our lives’ nets are empty until they are filled with the miraculous “catch” of His love.  Certainly, one can seem to have it all: job, money, family, success. But without God, there comes a moment in everyone’s life when they realize they “have toiled all the night and have taken nothing.” You see, our lives’ nets are truly empty without Christ.

Luke 5:8   “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord.”

[1] “Commentary on Luke 5-11”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Travail and Deliverance

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
June 19, 2012

Our Epistle comes from one of the “core” sections of N.T. Scripture, St. Paul’s  8th chapter of Romans.  Some commentators have called this Epistle Paul’s tour de force, as he expounds on the doctrines of grace, hope, sin, justification, forgiveness and salvation.  It is certainly one of this priest’s personal favorites, as it was chiefly responsible for his adult “re-conversion” at the tender age of 22.  Romans reawakened my own slumbering faith and made me see my desperate need for a Savior.

We know God constantly calls us into repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. He does this first through our baptisms, as the taint of original sin is washed away by the water of rebirth. We are also restored through the Holy Ghost, as he pricks our consciences and guides us, if we will listen to Him. All of us need to heed that small, still voice of the Spirit. Yet, we all know how easy it is to ride roughshod over the Spirit and go our own way, usually to our own detriment. Possessing free will, so often we flaunt our will in the presence of divine guidance.. Our raging human will, led by the impulse of the flesh, wants to have its own way, rather than let God be our master

There is a better way. St. Paul’s message today is about our restoration, and it is about a message of hope that all committed Christians possess.

St. Paul says: (Romans 8:18-19) “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.  For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.”

St. Paul often draws our attention to the here and now versus the hereafter. He has a keen vision of the life to come, while fully appreciating the tribulations of our earthly life. Citing Philippians 1:23-24, he says: ”For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better: Nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” Paul was awaiting his second appearance before the Emperor Nero, where he was expecting to be condemned and sentenced to death.  We can be assured that Paul met his fate with courage and joy, as he looked forward to his reception in Heaven

Similarly, St. Paul draws the contrast to the sufferings of the present time with “the glory that shall be revealed in us.” He is speaking of our own glorious reception in Heaven. We shall experience a restoration of our rightful places as heirs of the Kingdom of God.  This should be “an earnest expectation” for all of us, and for the glory that awaits us.  Conversely, we should not totally disdain our life on Earth, although many isolated monks, hermits and aesthetics have. While we must admire their devotion, if not called to this life, let us regard our current life as a gift from God, and glorify Him for it.
At the same time, our devotion to this life should not so be complete as to lose our eternal life awaiting us in Heaven. As committed Christians, let us view this life as the first step of eternity. In Christ, we have effectively entered into our eternal life; we have just not yet seen its glorious fulfillment.

This is the hope that awaits all of us.  The challenge is to live in this world in such a way as to pass directly from this life to judgment, and then to life eternal.  We know that there will be Judgment, as all of us will be judged for our deeds in the flesh. As we contemplate the things we have done and left undone, this is a terrifying thought.  How many of us could be deemed to deserve the joys of Heaven?  Recall that Christ Himself said to the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:17,
Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God…”  None of us can get to Heaven on our own deserts. Yet, there is mercy. This sinner knows that when he stands before the Judgment Seat, all he can do is hold up Jesus.
Through Christ, all of Creation will be delivered from its pains and travail, thus creating the “anxious longing of the creation (that) waits for the revealing of the sons of God”?   How?  The answer is revealed in: (Romans 8:21) because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”  Putting it all together, all Creation waits for the consummation of history, when all things will change.

Our situation is now vain or futile in this sense:  we humans expect all things to go on the way they are now, even ourselves.  While we know intellectually that all things change, decay, and eventually pass away, we really don’t want to believe it. Thus, love songs speak of “forever”; grants and trusts have language with the words “in perpetuity”; and the Psalmist says, “Men call the land after their own names.” Yet, as Ecclesastes reminds us, “Vainity, of vanities! All is vanity.”(Eccl. 1:2).   

Yet, why would the Apostle say that we are “subjected in hope”?  While all things have a passing, they also have a resurrection.  We and all Creation will be set free from our “slavery to corruption” into the freedom of glorious perfection in Christ. Just so, the Book of Revelation speaks of Jesus presenting Creation as his spotless Bride to the Father.  We will change this corruptible body for an incorruptible one, and our mortality for immortality.  We will escape our bondage to finality.

In the meantime, we have work to do on Earth.  Our job is to love God with our whole heart, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are to show God’s love for us by loving others in the same way.  The word that fits the bill is charity. We are to be charitable in our thoughts, in our words, and in our actions.  We are simply, to treat others the way we want to be treated.

As we struggle against sin and strive to persevere in righteousness, let us also strive for joy.  Ours is certainly not an easy journey, nor one without pitfalls and dangers.  We have enemies and adversaries, both spiritual and temporal.  As we seek holiness and godliness, do not expect the world’s approval, but rather its scorn.  Remember, if we were of the World, the World would love us.  We are not, however seeking the approval of men, but of God.

Let us do this with joy. Difficult as it is, we can be filled with hope and with help.  We are never far from our Helper, as He seeks to tabernacle with us.  We are never far from help that is fresh, ever-present and abundant.  We are never far from Joy, if only we would seize it!

Take hold of this joy then, and cherish it.  This is our comfort, our aid, and our hope as we wait for “the redemption, to wit, the redemption of our body.”

Romans 8:22  “For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.”

"He that loveth not, knoweth not God."

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Trinity I, 2016
29 May, 2016

Last week on Trinity Sunday, we spoke about the common denominator of the Holy Trinity: love.
Our Epistle from the 1st Letter of St. John continues on this theme. In fact, it is a “love letter” from God to us.  Why? Not only does it come from the apostle “whom Jesus loved”, but also from the only apostle who had the courage to stand by Jesus while He was crucified.  It is evident that John reciprocated Jesus’ love by this action.

John’s writings speak so consistently and persuasively about love being the chief quality of God.  In the first sentence of today’s Epistle selection we read: “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. “  [i] The entire 4th Chapter of this letter repeats 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”[ii]

How are we to know that God is love?  The answer, according to 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.”[iii]

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.  One can say that God’s love is manifested forth by the beauty and magnificence of His Creation. One can also say that God’s Love is shown forth by the natural love mankind shows one to another. Both these statements would be true.  Yet, the love of man is only a faint reflection of God’s overwhelming love for us.

Lest this is too abstract, let us bring it down to a human level… Many of us in this room are parents. Do you remember the first time you held your newborn son or daughter? Do you remember the attachment that happened naturally at that moment?  This was your daughter, or your son. He or she came from you and bore certain similarities. Now, come forward a few years when that child had first fallen off their bike, or had some sort of accident.  They came to you crying, and maybe even bleeding a bit. Do you recall your anguish at that moment? What wouldn’t you have done at that time?  Most of us would have even taken on that pain ourselves, if we could have, to spare our child.

Now, imagine God the Father surveying the scene on earth, as His beloved Son, who as God, is the absolute ruler of all, now accused falsely, lashed savagely like a common criminal, and nailed brutally to a wooden cross, to endure an agonizing, horrible, slow death. Additionally, think of Jesus hanging upon His Cross, praying for and forgiving His torturers.

You see, Christ did what we earthly parents cannot do.  He took the pain of death and eternal separation from God from us.  If this is not love, what is?

Beloved in Christ, this did happen through the incomprehensible love of God. With adoring eyes, we see Christ on the Cross;, our spirits, aided by the Holy Ghost, burn with gratitude for what He did for us.  We recognize the terrible danger of separation from God, from which He delivered us. Yet, the scope of this hard, beautiful love is too much for us.  We cannot understand its magnitude. The scope of it is just too great. All we can do is worship, lost in awe and wonder.

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.”[iv]   AMEN

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