Men are Not Machines- Epiphany and New Year 2017

first-programmable-computerThe first freely programmable computer was built in 1936 by a German engineer named Konrad Zuse.  That computer became operational in 1941.  Since then technology, as we all know, has made tremendous strides.

Now, every successive year brings new technology is that is faster, smaller and more efficient than the previous year’s tech.  This movement toward greater technologies has created a great expectation that progress is linear through time, that is that things should improve and get better every year.

This expectation breaks down when it is applied to people.  Since the beginning of the great recession, more work is expected out of fewer people for less money.  That’s business, except people carry those same expectations outside of the workplace.  We multi- task.  We fill our schedules so that we’re busy all the time.  People are not machines.  Eventually, this kind of strain leads to breakdown.  Physical breakdown.  Mental breakdown.  The breakdown of families.  These breakdowns can lead to serious personal and social issues such as sexual dysfunction and chemical abuse.

Last week, I suggested that you submit yourself to Jesus, to let him help you form your thoughts, desires, goals and behavior.  This week and over the next four sermons, I will talk about four traps, four false beliefs which bind us and prevent us from thinking and behaving as mature Christians.  These traps and false beliefs are not new, the Bible has an answer for them all, however they are exacerbated by the pressures of living in a modern, increasingly secularized world.

The first trap is the performance trap.  This trap is caused by the false belief that you must meet certain standards to feel good about yourself.  The second trap is the approval addict.  This person believes that they must be approved by others to feel good about themselves.  The third trap is the blame game.  Those who fall into that trap believe that those who fail are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished.  The final trap is shame.  Those who fall into that trap believe this about themselves, “I am what I am.  I cannot change.  I am hopeless”  I will speak to each of these over the coming four Sundays.  This week’s topic is the performance trap.

As I will discuss later in the sermon, the way out of these traps is spiritual maturity.  You arrive at spiritual maturity through a very basic law, lex orandi, lex credendi.  The law of prayer is the law of belief.

If you pray and worship, often and correctly, your mind will be transformed.  God will work in you to transform your thoughts and desires, eventually effecting your behaviors and actions;

Present your bodies a living sacrifice a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God,        which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world; but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:1)

In the Gospel reading for the first Sunday after the Epiphany, Jesus stays behind at the temple in Jerusalem after His parents left for home.  It seems strange to an overprotective parent a parent could go for a day without knowing that their twelve year old son was missing, but realize that the men and women in the caravan were traveling separately.  Jesus could’ve been with either His mother or His father.  Neither parent would’ve thought it was peculiar that He wasn’t around, until they reach home.  I can hear Joseph now saying something like, “Mary, I thought He was with you.” To which Mary would respond, “No, I thought that He was with you.”  Finding that Jesus wasn’t among the caravan, they trace their steps backward, in an effort to figure out just where Jesus could be.

finding-jesus-in-the-templeAnd so these earthly parents turn toward Jerusalem, seeking Jesus.  And on the third day, they find Him debating religious doctors in the Temple.  Mary asks Jesus, “Why did you do this to us?  Can’t you see that your father and I have agonizingly been searching for you?”  And Jesus responds, “Why did you need to search?  Didn’t you realize that I would be here in my Father’s house?” Then they went home to Nazareth, and Jesus was obedient to His parents.

As I’m learned as a parent, children become more self-aware and willful at 12 years old. Here, Jesus is realizing His purpose on earth, just like other 12 year old children.  And He is becoming self-willed, but not sinful.  As it states in the next verse, Jesus was obedient to His parents, just like the 5th commandment dictates.

Jesus was growing up, transforming into an adult.  Growing up is a theme familiar to St. Paul.  In our Bible Study in Ephesians you may recall that Paul said, “That henceforth we be no more children…” He tells us and the Ephesians to “grow up into him in all things…”  We need to be mature in our faith.

Today’s collect for the First Sunday after the Epiphany itself contains a teaching on the meaning of prayer.  Not every prayer is answered with a “yes” because not every prayer is according to His will.  St James explains it this way, “Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (James 4:3).”  We should pray to determine God’s will and to learn what we “ought” to do.  We should then seek God’s will to accomplish it.  That is what St. Paul means in the Epistle by “presenting yourself as a living sacrifice.”  He means seeking and doing God’s will.  That’s what St. Paul means by renewing the mind, that is praying that we may perceive and do what things we ought to do.

Despite being baptized.  Despite efforts to live and follow Jesus.  Despite being washed in the Blood of the Lamb and being born again in Christ Jesus, our minds go places they ought not.  Despite being restored to righteousness by Jesus, evil thoughts still flash through our brains that conspire to undo us.

In Colossians 2:8, St. Paul warns us, “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.”  Don’t be spoiled by vain deceit, he says.  That sounds a lot like today’s Epistle, “Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.”  These thoughts are constant.  St Paul himself recognized them in himself when he said, “For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I (Romans 7:15).”

A true mark of maturity is when we begin to test deceitful thoughts and their resulting behaviors against the Word of God.

One of the deceptions all of us tend to believe is that success will bring us happiness.  We believe that we must meet certain standards in order to feel good about ourselves.  This is the same deception that the serpent used to tempt Eve.  “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.  And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat (Genesis 3:4-6).”  Eve fell to the deception, “If I meet this standard, then I’ll be happy.”  The standard was wisdom and knowledge of good and evil, but it was a lie.

The consequences of falling for the false belief that you must meet certain standards to feel good about yourself range from fear of failure, to perfectionism, to the drive to succeed, to the manipulation of others to achieve success, to withdrawl from all healthy risks.

Eventually, our desire to succeed can lead to being driven beyond healthy limitations, leading to an inability to relax or enjoy life, let alone enjoy time with family and relationships.

Remember Mary and Martha?

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.  And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.  But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.  And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42).”

The good part, according to Jesus, was to be present in mind and body, to sit and listen.  Instead, Martha was busy, troubled and resentful, trying to live up to some expectation of what it means to be a good host.

The result of believing the deception that our self worth is based upon meeting some standard can have heavy  long-term consequences.  When we feel we’ve been insulted or injured by others, we feel anger.  Out of pride, we believe ourselves to be diminished and so we shift that responsibility to someone else.  We can become depressed as a result of anger turned inward.  We develop low motivation, believing in advance that we will fail no matter what we do, and so we believe that we have no reason to exert any effort.

Satan wants to deceive us.  Satan wants to destroy us.  Sometimes he accomplishes that through our own thoughts.

So what do we do?  If you have fallen into the trap of believing that you and others only have value when certain standards are met, how do you get out of it?

God’s answer is this, justification by faith.  “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… (Romans 5:1)”  Justification means that not only has God forgiven you of your sins, but He has also granted you the righteousness of Christ.  You are fully pleasing to the Father regardless of how you look, how smart you are, what kind of car you drive, who your parents are, or based upon anything that you’ve done in the past.  None of that matters.  You please the Father and have value because of what Jesus did on the cross.  To overcome this trap, you must first realize that you are subcoming to the false belief.  Then you must supplant that false belief with the truth, that is the truth contained in Holy Scripture.  You must supplant it with prayer and worship until the truth of the Gospel is your belief.  Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi.  The law of prayer is the law of belief, or to put it another way, we believe what we pray.  Then we develop a new outlook, we can start to see ourselves and others as God sees us and others.

St. Paul in the Epistle tells us not to be conformed to the world, which measures success by titles, records and dollars, but instead to renew your mind.  He is telling us to have a new attitude.  The new attitude comes from looking at everything in terms of God, instead of looking at everything from the self-regarding perspective which comes to us naturally.

The new attitude involves asking such questions as, “What does God want me to do here?” “What would the Christian response to this situation be?” “How can I best serve the interests of this other person?”

What St. Paul teaches about our sacrifice of ourselves is part of the celebration of Holy Communion also. In the long Prayer of Consecration on pages 80 and 81 of the Prayer Book, we begin by representing the sacrifice of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine, just as He taught us to do.

After the Word and the Spirit have made the bread and wine his Body and Blood, we join our sacrifice of ourselves to his sacrifice of himself. The dramatic climax of the prayer comes when I say, for all of us, “And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto thee.”

The point of all this should be obvious. We can never transform our minds, that is, take up the new God-regarding attitude, without help. The power we need both to want to make that sacrifice and actually to go ahead and do it comes from God.

That power flows from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, and we literally eat it and drink it at the altar rail. Later on we ask God to give us the help we need “to do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in.” You can only do those good works after you have made your own sacrifice the transforming of your mind, the offering of your whole selves, your souls and bodies, to do what God wants you to do.

When you believe that you are completely forgiven and fully pleasing to God, you no longer have to fear failure.  As time goes on, you experience freedom from fear of failure and an increased desire to do the right things, that is to serve Christ and His Kingdom.  You act out of love for Christ rather than out of some contrieved standard of achievement.

Christ is worthy of our love and obedience.  The more we understand His Love and majesty, the more we praise Him and honor Him at the expense of everything else that seems to press upon us.

To avoid the deceptions of the world, the flesh and the devil, develop maturity.  Test your thoughts against God’s Word.  Seek to do the will of God.  Pray that you might know what things you ought to do and ask for the power to faithfully fulfill the same.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.



Archaeology Day Camp Cancelled

100_0365Science. History. Anthropology. Deductive reasoning. Archaeology demands a lot of its devotees, but the payoffs can be epic, ranging from life-changing discovery to a new appreciation for very old cultures. If your child roams your backyard with a metal detector and a shovel, combs riverbeds for arrowheads, or dreams of being the next Indiana Jones, then our archeology day-camp may be just the break that your child — and your lawn — needs.

DIG HISTORY! At the Abingdon Glebe Archaeology Day Camp in Gloucester may be just the ticket. Located at the Historic Abingdon Glebe house, the camp offers children from fourth and sixth grades the opportunity to help excavate the Abingdon Glebe historic site. The camp will run from Monday, June 26th through Wednesday, June 28th. The last day of the camp includes a field trip to an active archeological dig in Jamestown. The camp begins at 10AM and ends at 3PM. The cost is $45 payable to St. James Anglican Church. Lunch is not provided, so please pack your child’s lunch.

To register, click on the following link and download the forms.


Print the form and mail it to the following address;

Archaeology Day Camp
C/O Fr. Kevin Sweeney
6124 Abingdon Glebe Ln.
Gloucester, VA 23061

or email it to


Pray for Protection From Adversity… So That You May Serve the Living God

God is Preparing YouLord, we beseech thee to keep thy household the Church in continual godliness; that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities, and devoutly given to serve thee in good works, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Collect for Trinity XXII).

The Church is God’s household. We, the Body of Christ, are born into the divine family through our Baptism. When we celebrate Holy Communion, God’s family gathers at the Father’s table. The Church is made holy by the washing with blood Christ shed on the cross, the blood shed by the, “Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world.” When our Lord Jesus returns, the Church will be presented to Him as His spotless bride.

Last week, I wrote about saints in the parish email (November 4 & 5, 2015), preached about saints at Wednesday’s noon Mass, and again Sunday on All Saints Day. We, those who are baptized into Christ’s Church and follow Jesus as Lord, are the Saints of God in the Church Militant. We have work to do. We have a calling, and part of that calling is to become holy. We do this through the power of the Holy Spirit. God has begun a work in us all. We should pray, as did St. Paul, “…that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6 KJV).”

In the Collect, we pray, “…that through thy protection it may be free from all adversities…” The Church faces opposition in the World. It is attacked by the unbelieving world, and by those who do not believe the truth contained in Holy Scripture. We pray for God’s protection of the Church, not only so that it can survive, but so that it may serve God through Good works.

We must pray with fervor, so that we may be holy, protected by God, and serve Him in Good works. Then, with God’s help, we will persevere as members of Christ’s Church, God’s household of faith.

Sts. Simon & Jude, Apostles

StsSimonJude3 Ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow-citizens with the Saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the corner-stone (Ephesians 2:19)

October 28th is the Feast Day for St. Simon & St. Jude, Apostles and I’ll give a little history on both Apostles.

Simon is called Simon Zelotes, Simon the Zealot, in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13. He was one of the most obscure among the Apostles. Little is recorded of him aside from his name.

The name of Simon occurs in all the passages of the synoptic gospels and Acts that give a list of apostles without further details about him.

Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas, the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor. (Luke 6:12-16, RSV)
We also know little about St. Jude the Apostle. “Jude of James” is only mentioned twice in the New Testament: in the lists of apostles in Luke 6:16 and Acts 1:13.

The name by which Luke calls the Apostle, “Jude of James” is ambiguous as to the relationship of Jude to this James. Such a construction commonly denotes a relationship of father and son, it has been traditionally interpreted as “Jude, brother of James”.

The John 14:22 mentions a disciple called “Judas not Iscariot”. This is generally accepted to be the same person as the apostle Jude. In some Latin manuscripts of Matthew 10:3, Jude is called Judas the Zealot. St. Jude is also traditionally recognized as the author the General Epistle of Jude.

According to the Armenian tradition, Saint Jude suffered martyrdom about 65 AD in Beirut, Lebanon together with the Apostle Simon the Zealot, that is why their feast day is connected together.

St. Simon and St. Jude were Apostles and as such are part of the foundation on which the Church stands. Of those who belong to the Church, Paul says that we who have come to Christ are no more strangers and foreigners. Paul uses three analogies in the Epistle reading to describe this relationship.

First, Paul says that we are “fellow citizens with God’s people.” We have entered a new kingdom. We have changed our citizenship and now we are under another authority. We take for granted the rights of American citizenship so much that we have almost forgotten the fact that we are under authority. The government has certain powers over us. We are under authority. That is the first mark of citizenship.

The thing that makes us rejoice in our citizenship is that we have certain privileges. In the kingdom of God we have the protection of a King. There is power available there, the power to raise us from the dead. That kind of power works beyond human thinking and planning. God invites us to call upon Him for that kind of resource, whenever we need it.

Second, we are “members of God’s household.” This is an advance on the first point. We are members of God’s own family. This is the great truth that Paul is trying to bring home to our hearts, which is that we have access to a Father who is the King.

Third, Paul goes on to describe an even closer relationship: you are “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Perhaps that seems something of an anticlimax. As an analogy, a building is rather cold and impersonal compared with the relationship of a family, but in the structure of a building, no separation of stones that make up the walls is possible. If the stones are separated, the building crumbles. This analogy hints at the closeness of the structures in the kingdom. It also speaks to the strength of the structure with Christ being the very stone that holds it all together.

Always remember the sacrifice of those who helped build Christ’s Church, men like St. Simon & St. Jude. Remember that you are under authority, belong to a family, and a building, a holy temple which is not of this world. Your citizenship is in Heaven with Jesus and His Saints, so do as Our Lord Commands. Love your neighbor, even though he may persecute you. Finally, pray that God will join you to His Holy Temple, through the unity of the Spirit.


Pray For Those in Danger

COLLECT for The 3rd Sunday after Trinity
O LORD, we beseech thee mercifully to hear us; and grant that we, to whom thou hast given an hearty desire to pray, may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

We do not initiate prayer ourselves. It is God through his Spirit who puts the desire to pray within our hearts. Our role in prayer is to will to serve God who wishes to use us to his glory. Jesus is central to all our prayer. St. Augustine once said, “Christ prays for us as a priest, prays in us as our Head, is prayed to, by us, as our God. Let us recognize, therefore, our voices in him, and his voices in us.”

In this week’s collect, our request is that we “may by thy mighty aid be defended and comforted in all dangers and adversities”. We do not pray for God to keep is from danger, rather to KEEP US in our dangers and adversities.

Whatever may happen to us, we should have faith that God will make good out of any situation, if we offer it to him. This is the meaning of Psalm 9: “There shall no evil happen unto thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways.”

St. Peter Released from Prison

St. Peter Released from Prison

I cannot help but think about St. Peter in Acts chapter 12. He was in danger and adversity. He was in danger of losing his head to Herod, who was finding pleasure in killing Christians. In the passage, he was sleeping. He did not seem to be terribly worried about his own safety.

The house of Mary, the mother of John, was praying, and God answered their prayer. Peter was delivered from danger. Those praying, barely believed this, thinking that Peter was a ghost when he came to their house, but he was indeed free. In the case of Peter, as with us, God’s angels prevented evil from happening to him. God turned a bad situation into good.

This week, remember to pray for those who are in harms way. Remember to pray for your enemies. Remember to pray for those in civil authority. Remember to pray for those who are lost to the world, the flesh, and the devil. Remember that God sets captives free, and God answers prayer.

God’s Love is Made Manifest in Our Love for One Another

Lazarus and the rich manIn this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another. (1 John 4.9-11)

The Lectionary and the Christian Calendar set the fundamental message of Holy Scripture in an orderly framework. The Gospel and Epistle readings appointed for Sunday reading leads us to a deep and clear awareness of Christian truth, and a sense of our Christian privileges and duties.

The Epistle lesson for the First Sunday after Trinity summarized the Christian Year to date. The simple lesson is, “in this was manifested the love of God towards us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him (1 John 4:9).” That summarizes everything celebrated in the first half of the Church Year: the manifestation of God’s love in Jesus Christ as He takes on our human nature, transforms it, and elevates it to a spiritual plane making us sons and daughters of God by adoption and grace. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).”

The point of all the Church Seasons this year is that we see the love of God, and that we be reborn by the vision of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
The knowledge that God is love is sight to the blind and the very ground of salvation. This new vision allows us to see, “a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21:1). To see the world with new eyes is to be spiritually reborn as Jesus said to Nicodemus in the Gospel Lesson for Trinity Sunday. When you see the world with new eyes, you are saved from fear and hopelessness.

“Hereby we know love, because he laid down his life for us (1 John 3:16).” Jesus died for us because He loves us. It is our fate to be transformed by that love. That is the second point made by John in the lesson, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another (1 John 4:11).” That passage introduces us to the season of Sundays following Trinity. The Epistle and Gospel readings for the Trinity Season educate us in the practice of Christian love. God’s love manifests itself in our love for one another. God’s love is not a superficial emotion. That love is not merely, “in word and in tongue,” rather it is a love manifested,”in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).” Without the deeds that flow naturally from God’s love manifest in us, then our love of God is counterfeit, “if a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar (1 John 4:20).”

Jesus’ telling of Lazarus and the rich man illustrates this. Why is the rich man in hell? He denied God’s love. He did not love his neighbor, thus he had no love for God. That lack of love resulted in a tormented soul, a soul that rejected God’s love.

Loving another means willing the eternal good for another and acting in terms of that will. How do we do this? To begin with, our own neediness and fears get in the way of loving others. We do not begin with ourselves. Instead, we begin with God’s love for us.
“We have known and believed the love that God hath to us (1 John 4:16).” “Herein is our love made perfect (1 John 4:17).” Knowledge of God’s love enables us to love and thus to will the eternal good of another. Knowing that God loves us, frees us from our own needs and fears. We need to grow in knowledge of God’s love for us.

The passage from First John commands us to love. That seems strange. How can we be commanded to love? We modern people are accustomed to thinking of love as being spontaneous. People “fall in love.” You cannot command something that is spontaneous, but that is not the love commanded by Holy Scripture.

The approach to love commanded by the passage is more practical than the modern notion about the spontaneity of love. God’s love manifested in our love for one another is the work that flows from a Christian character, a character formed through a long process of habit formation. That formation begins with God’s commandment and our obedience, just as our worldly lives begin with obedience to our parents and those set at authority over us. Through our obedience to God, we grow in love. That growth in love is our sanctification, our growth in holiness. “And this commandment have we from him, that he who loveth God love his brother also (1 John 4:20).”

Implications of Jesus’ Ascension into Heaven

Ilya_Repin_Last_Supper_700It is now the end of the short season of the Ascension. On the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus told His disciples;

But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning (John15:26 & 27).

Jesus tells His disciples to look ahead into the future, “When the Comforter is come.” This text  is from Christ’s farewell address to the Disciples at the Last Supper called the Last Discourse. It spans from John chapters 14 through 17. One of the main purposes of His address is to tell them that He is going to go away from them.

On Ascension Day, Jesus told the Apostles to pray for the Holy Ghost to come down. We know the Holy Ghost arrives on Pentecost. Anglicans call this day Whitsunday, named for the white garments worn by those who were baptized on that day.

In the Last Discourse, Jesus says that when the Holy Ghost has come He will, “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment.” He will show the world that it was wrong about what is right.


The world thought Jesus was wrong, so the world killed him. Jesus’ Ascension proves that He was right, when He, “…goes to the Father, and they see him no more.” Who could possibly rise from the earth and enter the cloud of the presence of the Almighty except God Himself? If the one who went up is God Himself, then He must be right after all. Since He is right, we should pay attention to what He says.

The Proper Preface for the octave points to a second implication for the Ascension. It says that Jesus “…after his most glorious resurrection manifestly appeared to all his Apostles, and in their sight ascended up into heaven, to prepare a place for us.” That is an allusion to yet another part of Jesus’ farewell address. He says as a matter of introduction of the discourse to the apostles, “Let not your heart be troubled. Ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not true, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you (John 14:1-2).”

Those are comforting words. Jesus tells us that one major purpose of His Ascension is to get our places in Heaven ready. We don’t know exactly when He will return. We know from the first chapter of Acts, when the apostles asked Him, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” He answered them, “It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power (Acts 1:6 & 7).” We know that if He bothers to go to Heaven to get our places ready, we can be confident that He will come back to get us. He will come back and take us to those heavenly places where we can be with Him forever.

Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father

Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father

Another purpose of the Ascension of Christ that we typically don’t consider is the completion the cycle of Old Testament sacrifice. God told the Hebrews to sacrifice animals as thank offerings for delivery from the slavery of Egypt and as propitiatory offerings to take away sins. The most important sacrifice came once a year, when the high priest carried the blood of the atonement offering into the Holy of Holies in the Temple at Jerusalem.

The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the Holy of Holies in the Temple was just an earthly shadow of the real Holy of Holies which is the throne room of God in Heaven. It says, “Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us (Hebrews 9:24).”

In His Ascension, Jesus presents God with the blood of His sacrifice of Himself, just as the high priest presented the blood of the atonement offering. Jesus is both the priest and the victim. He is both the one who offers, the Great High Priest, and He is the sacrifice, the one who is offered. His sacrifice is perfect and not repeatable. God requires no more blood sacrifices.

In the Creed we say that Jesus is sitting down at God’s right hand. He can sit down. His priestly work is done. He doesn’t have to stand at any sort of altar. He pleads His sacrifice for us as our mediator and advocate, “…we have a great High Priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14).”

Jesus-coming-in-cloudsAs we look forward to Pentecost, and as we look farther into the future toward Jesus’ return, our hearts need not be troubled. Instead, we should rejoice in Christ’s glorious Ascension. He has shown the world who is really right. He finished His sacrificial work as our great High Priest. He has gone back to Heaven to get our places ready, and He will come again.

Lesson from the Fourth Sunday after Easter

Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father

Jesus seated at the right hand of the Father

This week we look forward to the Ascension of Christ and Pentecost. The Epistle, Gospel and Collect show us that it is by God’s grace that we can prepare to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Collect approaches God as the One “Who alone canst order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men…” In the Epistle, we hear that, “Every good gift, and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights….” The gift of the Holy Spirit is possible because Jesus, as He states in John 16, “goes away” to heaven. There, Jesus presents Himself to the Father and then the Father then turn gives all things to the Son.
In the Creed, we confess that Jesus “ascended into heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty.” Being seated at the right hand of the Father means that Jesus is in a place of authority. In Ephesians, St. Paul explains the import of the Ascension: “When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men…He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things (Eph 4:8).”
Jesus alluded to the time when He would sit at His Father’s right hand time in his prayer to His Father in John 17, “I glorified thee on earth, having accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do; and now, Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made (John 17:4, 5).” It is Jesus’ return to glory that makes the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost possible
It must have startled the disciples when Jesus told them He was going away and that it was better for them if He went away. We should be startled as well if we contemplate what Jesus is saying. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jesus were bodily, visibly present with us here today? His presence would seem to solve a host of issues, however, the Holy Spirit Jesus sends us is everywhere, wherever “two or three are gathered together in his name.” It is through the Holy Spirit that our Lord is with his Church always, “even unto the end of the world.” He could in His Spirit be with all believers, at all places, and in all times to prepare them for his second bodily coming, at the Last Day.
This week, let us pray that by the Spirit’s guidance, the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” may mold our “unruly wills and affections” and ready us for the Kingdom of Heaven.

Finding Joy In Shattered Expectations

Emmaus Road

Emmaus Road

We are accustomed to think of Easter as the most joyous of festivals, and certainly all the texts of today’s liturgy, and all the Easter hymns, fill our mouths with words of rejoicing:

Sunday, I discussed the first Easter. It was a distressing day for Jesus disciples. When you read the Gospel accounts, you see the immediate response of the disciples was fear and despair, rather than joy.

Consider the account of the two walking sorrowfully along the Emmaus road. A stranger joined them as they walked and asked them what it was that they were talking about so sadly. They told him about Jesus’ death and the empty tomb. “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done (Jn 24:21).” They were blinded by their grieving, and did not recognize that the stranger who walked with them was the Risen Lord. “O slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken (Lk 24:25)!”

Does their blindness surprise you? Consider what had happened. The death of Jesus upon the cross spelled the end of his followers’ hopes. The triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday the prior week The triumphant procession into the Holy City only a week before where Jesus was hailed as the Messiah by the crowds must have seemed like a farce following his death on Calvary. A week after this apparent triumph, Jesus was executed, dead, and buried. How could this be the Messiah? Even worse, the body was now gone.

This made no sense to the disciples, so they were disappointed, afraid, and they ran away and hid. They were unable to see beyond their own broken dreams and expectations. “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel (Lk 24:21).” The disciples followed and heard Jesus. They heard him speak of his dying, and rising again. They heard him speak of his kingdom, a kingdom quite unlike earthly kingdoms. Despite this, it was impossible for the disciples to see beyond their own hopes, ambitions and expectations, even when Jesus was still with them. In Jesus, they were sure, they had found the leader who would restore Israel to its ancient glory.

They could not comprehend that God’s redemption could be something greater than their own hopes. They experienced the loss of their hopes, the pains of travail. It took the ruination of their expectations to open their eyes to God’s new way of living. It was only by sharing in Jesus’ death that they could share in his new life.

God does not support us in our own limited expectations. God makes all things new. Jesus says there is no new birth without the pains of travail (Mt 24:8).

All of us have make plans, and we own our ambitions. Each of us expects certain things out of life and each other. We feel frustration when our expectations go unfulfilled. “But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel (Lk 24:21).” We make plans and we expect God to support us in those plans. Who knows better than we what God ought and ought not to do? We are disappointed when things do not go our own way, and sometimes we worry and despair.

That is wrong-headed. The truth is that if we are to live, we must first die.
St. Paul said, “For you are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3).” “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die…” says Jesus, “it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit (Jn 12:24).” God brings resurrection out of death.

When we gain freedom from the bondage of our empty vain ambitions, we become heirs to God’s new kingdom. Bread becomes the bread of life after it is broken. Wine outpoured becomes for us the cup of blessings. God makes the world out of nothing. Before God made the world it was “Tohu wa bohu,” formless and void (Gn 1:2). God created the world from nothing and so he makes life from death. That transformations is painful and simultaneously awesome.

So when we come to God, we do not come to him asking for support in our own little things. No, we come to God for resurrection. As the passage from Revelation states, God makes all things new.

So now, during this Eastertide, we must sing our praises to God; to Jesus who died, and now lives together with the Father and the Holy Spirit. To God the Holy Trinity be all honour, praise and dominion, now, henceforth and for ever. Amen.