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Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The 100th Sheep

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
3rd Sunday after Trinity 2020
June 28, 2020

Luke 15:4   4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?

Have you ever felt like the 100th sheep? That is, have you ever felt like you were out there, in the wilderness, alone, with no one to help you? Have you ever thought, “I’m all by myself. No one cares about me.  No one understands how I feel.” Have you ever felt completely isolated in your suffering?  If so, you are not alone. All of us have felt that way at one time or another.

This is a very perilous area.  All of us, due to pain, loneliness, sickness, or grief, have felt completely cut off from the world.  Perhaps we have thought of ourselves as an island that is isolated and uninhabited, except for us and our misery.  It is common to all, and frankly, is a serious temptation.

Why do we say temptation?  Recalling that “…your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour…”, never forget that Our Adversary Below  is always seeking to hinder us and plague us in any way possible. One of his favorite tactics is isolation.  When we are hurt, discouraged, sick, or grieving, it is an opportune time to launch a spiritual (and usually psychological) attack.  These are the times that Satan uses to his advantage because we are not at our strongest. He tells us we are alone. eHBefore we know it, our mind and spirit are awash in negativity.  It may be overwhelming sadness, or depression, or simply nasty accusatory thoughts.  Satan is not called “the accuser of the brethren” for no reason,
In fact, He (Satan) may dredge up events that happened months, years, or even decades ago in an attempt to wage mental and spiritual warfare against us. He tries to remind us of our failings and our shortcomings to breed bad feelings. Satan likes it when we feel bad.

e reSo it is. It is our common fate for as long as we live on this Earth.  All of us have episodes like this. The stark reality of it is that the more spiritually mature and aware we are, the more intense the attacks are.  Martin Luther suffered terribly from these episodes. All great saints do. They are not pleasant but have the sick stench of Satanic activity about them.

Let us not dwell upon this, because we have the antidote to the Devil and his activity. It is contained in today’s Gospel.  Jesus tells us about the shepherd who has a herd of 100 sheep.  At the end of the day, he counts his flock and finds that one is missing.  Does he just shrug his head and say, “Oh well; ninety-nine is good enough?” No!  He leaves the herd and goes to seek the lost sheep.  He looks until he finds it.  Then, rejoicing, he places it on his shoulders and brings it home. What an image!  That lamb is safe and he is coming back to his flock. It is simply glorious. The Shepherd didn’t leave that sheep to be ravaged by wolves.  He sought him and brought him home.

We hope that you see the parallel here.  All of us, at one time or another, have been the 100th sheep.  Through our own sin, or through the temptation of isolation, we have all been lost in the wilderness. It seems hopeless. Then, in the distance, we hear something.  It is coming closer.  It is the voice of our Great Shepherd, calling us.   He has been looking for us.  All we must do is hear that call and follow it.  If we do, He will meet us and take us home.

Jesus is the answer to our isolation. He is our eternal Companion.  Never, despite what the Satanic voices say, are we ever alone.  How can we say this? Here’s why. Our worldview is this: we have a loving God and Creator, who made all things and loves all things to an infinite degree.  This being has expressed himself to us as a tripartite Person consisting of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. His son, Jesus Christ, loves you personally and completely. It’s been said that if Jesus had to die to just save you, one person, He would have done it.  Such is His care for you.  e He

This underscores an important point.  That point is, that no matter how grievous Evil is in this world, and despite the titanic amount of suffering it causes, it is in no way as powerful as Good. The Universe in general and the Earth in particular, are both inherently good, because they were made by God.
How do we react when the sense of isolation or negativity absorbs us? What power do we  Christians have at our fingertips? We have the greatest power imaginable, the Name of Jesus.  When a Christian prayerfully invokes the name of Jesus with unshakeable faith, miraculous things happen. The sick are cured, the lame walk, the blind see, and the satanic forces are dispelled.  At the name of Jesus, they recoil in fear and loathing. They quit the battlefield, defeated and dispirited.  The satanic forces hate to admit it, but they know they have lost the war.  Deep in their devilish beings, they know they must lose. As Martin Luther once wrote about Satan, “for lo! His doom is sure. One little word shall fell him…”

That word is Jesus.  It is the Word to whom we Christians owe eternal thanks and praise. Why? Certainly for our salvation, but also for the help we receive here and now.  In Christ, we are more than conquerors. We can resist and defeat the spiritual foes that afflict us. 

As the great Irish hymn, “The King of love my shepherd is” says,  “Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,  But yet in love He sought me, And on his shoulder gently laid, And home rejoicing, brought me.”

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Love in Truth and in Deed

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
2nd Sunday in Trinity

24 June, 2020

1 John 3:18 “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.”

We have talked about Love a great deal lately.  Due to current events in society, we have seen the search for love, and the total abnegation of love. Justice is demanded by many people, while others subvert justice through criminal, destructive acts.

We are seeing the wide application of blame for past historical events, based on a modern application of morality. People are being held accountable for acts done over a hundred and fifty years ago, based on their peculiar racial or ethnic demographic.
History is being erased, as certain of our society feel offended by our own past. Destruction and mayhem are considered warranted by some, to assuage their feeling of collective guilt, or hatred.

The times are truly tumultuous. On the surface, one may think, “Is society coming apart? What is happening? Is the end near?”  Meanwhile, the Christian shakes his head and says, “How does this honor God?”

That is an excellent question.  How, indeed. When the mob answers every outrage with another torched building, and public peace officers are immediately judged guilty in the court of public opinion, before due process of law, one must wonder.  When hatred and destruction is the answer for virtually every situation, egregious or not, one must wonder.

Beloved, we are not called to be this.  The apostle John tells us to love in deed and in truth.  We are called to do more than lip service to love.

We have several examples of this in this parish, thanks be to God.  Some members provide rides for other members unable to drive.  Other members donate generously to our food pantry effort, which in turn feeds another local food distribution ministry. Other members give selflessly of their time and treasure to enhance our worship environment, and to support our adoration of Almighty God. In general, we all support each other in communal worship.

For these contributions, we are all immensely grateful, to be sure.  St. Paul’s works when we do. When we do this, we are loving in deed and in truth.

On a deeper level, how do we accomplish this love for others?  We will submit to you there are several ways.  First, even though we are to love not only in words, consider this: what if we begin to love each other by NOT stating our extreme displeasure, our dislike, or utter disdain?  Sometimes, our mere silence is virtue.

Not to use the word “hatred” here, for we must strive at all costs to avoid that. It is the very antithesis of God. Yet, how hard it is!  Even righteous David said, (Psalm 139:21-22) “Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee?  22 I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies.”  David was grieved by those who hate God.

So must we.  We are grieved because how tragic it is to have such hatred in one’s heart! There are those who truly hate God. Stemming from their own self-loathing, they are filled with darkness.  Whereas Christ admonished us, (Matthew 6:22-23) “If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.  23 But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!”  Those who are wreaking chaos and havoc in our society, under the guise of “righteous anger” are full of darkness.  Their very actions shows how far they are from the love of God. Actions do count.  When you do such things, you are not walking with God. You are following a darker, more sinister path.

What is the Christian’s response to this?  First and foremost, pray.  Pray for these people, that they may repent.  Pray for their conversion to righteousness, and for a walk with God.  Pray for peace within yourself. 

Next, support righteous public action when you can.  Vote for those officials and candidates who best support a Christian narrative and reflect what is right. Do what you can through civic action. Take action personally, as you are able.  Ask God to show you a path to service, both within your church and without. Help those in need, and have compassion on your fellow man.

Lastly, realize one thing: God is in control.  Sometimes, it seems just the opposite, as evil seems to prevail. Yet, all things work together for good for those who love God. Despite the chaos and the anarchy, there is One who crafts all things to His Will.  Not that God wills that evil will happen; God forbid.  Rather, He allows sinful men to exercise their free will, and to act as sinful men; somehow crafting even this into His Plan for the world.  We do not know why; we do not know how; but we trust in Him.  God has already showed believers how much He cares for them. That (pointing at the crucifix) should be obvious to those of us in the household of faith.

For that reason, do not let your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. Do not answer hate for hate.   As much as it lies in you, love “… in deed and in truth.
To Him be all Glory, Honor, Power, and Dominion, now and forever. AMEN

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Void of Love

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
The First Sunday after Trinity
June 14, 2013

Let me pose a question: besides money, what is the most sought-after commodity in the world?  Is it not love? Do not men and women seek love in all its forms?  Not merely romantic love (eros) can be considered here. Do not people seek the other forms of love as well?  Do we not all want agape (love that seeks the welfare of the other person), and philios (love of fellowship), and caritas (Christian love of humankind; charity). Among people of good will, we can probably all agree that most humans need and seek love in one or all its forms.
Our Epistle for today is a wonderful treatment of love.  In it, John the beloved apostle uses the verbs “Beloved (agapetoi), let us love (agapomen) one another” (v. 7a).  These words, agapetoi and agapomen, are variants of the verb agape, which is the kind of love that demonstrates concern for the welfare of the other person.”[1]
Yet, how imperfectly do we seek it!  In the past several weeks, we have seen the pursuit of justice (agape and philios) over the mistreatment and subsequent death of a police prisoner. The massive protests stemming from this incident give testimony to that.  Then, we witnessed the complete repudiation of love by rioters and looters. We have seen the complete antithesis of the love sought after. Some with sinister agendas have completely invalidated the aims of the peaceful protesters. They have substituted hate for love, and violence for peace. It is sad and tragic so noble a cause can be perverted and twisted to such a degree.
Although we could spend the rest of the year seeking to understand the various forms of love, even imperfectly, let us focus on this: “He who doesn’t love doesn’t know God, for God is love” (v. 8 of our Epistle selection).  This verse states the other side of the coin––the obverse of verse 7,  which said: ”Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”  
While the person who loves “is born of God and knows God,” the person who doesn’t love doesn’t know God and has no deep and abiding relationship with God.  Love, then, is the acid test of discipleship. This is true because “God is love.”  How can we claim to have a deep and abiding relationship with God if we fail to manifest this most important characteristic of God––agape love?”[2]
The fact is, we cannot. It is impossible to perfectly love God, while hating one’s brother. The two are mutually opposite. Consider this: (1 John 4:20) “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?”  Yet, it could be said that we all accomplish this imperfectly as well. Somehow, most of us manage to have some love for God, while harboring ill will in some fashion towards our fellow man. We claim to love God, and we worship Him, yet we still judge, or criticize, or even hate others. In so doing, our walk with God is imperfect. Why? It is hindered by the limitations of our own human natures. Man is a curious mix of righteousness and blasphemy, of chastity and lust, and of restraint versus license.  He can exhibit the most elevated behavior, then suddenly return to the slime.
This being the case, how can one expect to achieve a high level of consistent godliness?  Is it even possible?  Given that no one, absolutely no one, is one hundred per cent consistent, it seems an impossibility. And so it is. It is impossible on our own power.  Absent the Spirit of God in our hearts, we will fail immensely more times, if we even try. Alternatively, given the spirit of grace and God’s love in our hearts, we will succeed more than we will fail.
Note this: we love God because He first loved us.  St. Thomas Aquinas called this “prevenient grace”, or the overwhelming source of love that draws man to God.  While Sigmund Freud may have termed man’s desire for God as need for a “Father figure”, it goes much deeper than that. Man’s nature, despite its fallen-ness, desires to have communion with God. Some theologians, such as St. Augustine of Hippo, have termed this the imago dei, or literally the image of God on our soul.  Even marred by sin, something in us calls out to God.
Something deep in Man impels him to his Creator, due to God’s desire for man to love Him, as He loves Man.
This is a mystery too profound for us.  Is it any wonder that many cannot accept it? How can there be Someone who only wants your love? How can there exist a Being that is only interested in your welfare and cares about you more than you care about yourself?  How is it even possible? 
It can only exist in the mystery and majesty that is God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.
Let it be summed up in this: (1 John 4:16) “And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.”
Beloved, let us know and believe that God is love.  Let us cherish this fact in our hearts, now and forever.