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.

 

 

Pray That We May Please God

Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and that they may obtain their petitions make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Collect for Trinity X, P 203 BCP).

Jesus Weeps, Luke xix. 41.

Jesus Weeps, Luke xix. 41.

 

Sunday, I preached about spiritual gifts. From the Epistle, we learned that the diverse abilities and skills of the Body of Christ are gifts the Holy Spirit. Second, we learned that these gifts are intended for the benefit of the whole Body of Christ. Third, we learned that there is a great diversity of gifts. Finally, we learned that our task is to discern the use of those spiritual gifts, that we may build the Body of Christ. Prayer is of great significance in all of this. It is through prayer that we seek God’s will. Through prayer, we seek the proper use of God’s gifts in us. Our lives are to be lives of prayer in the good use of the gifts which God gives us.

We learn about prayer in this week’s Collect for Trinity X. In the Collect, we ask God that He may hear our prayers and that we may ask for such things as shall please him. We may wonder, “What comfort is there in a God who answers prayer only when the right prayers are offered?” We must understand that we can only find comfort in a God who answers prayer in such a manner.

The Collect begins by asking the merciful Lord to hear His humble servants. God is merciful. In our humility, we submit our lives to God’s loving care. Faith is the primary prerequisite for prayer. We must believe that God is merciful. We cannot truly pray until we are persuaded that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent. God desires our salvation. God knows what is best for the good of our souls far beyond what we may think is beneficial for us. God’s wisdom is infinite and infinitely greater that human wisdom. God’s love for us is infinitely pure. His love is perfect, and far greater than our self-love. We must entrust all that is dear to us to His love.
God knows what is best for us. He knows what is best for our salvation, so it may seem that we go for long periods of seemingly unanswered prayer. Consider that our perspective is limited and narrow. We live in the world but a short time. God’s viewpoint is eternal. From the Collect, we learn that prayer stems from trust in God’s love and grace. If we believe that God loves us so much that His love saves us eternally, then no power in this world should cause us to doubt the power of prayer.
When we pray, “make them to ask such things as shall please thee,” we ask for help discerning what is best for us, and those we love. We pray that God will pull us closer to His love. As we come to Him in love, we submit our will to our loving father, desiring to think and do only things that please Him. Because of Jesus’ salvific acts, we know without question that our eternal salvation pleases God. May we come to see more clearly that pleasing God is our true joy and happiness.

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.
Dosso_Dossi_The_Ascension

 

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.

Holy Week and Our Betrayal of Christ

Palm SundayHoly Week is a week about our betrayals of Christ and our betrayals of each other. Judas’ kiss epitomizes this betrayal. We are all complicit in that kiss. We all betray Christ in some fashion.

Thankfully, there is mercy, the mercy of Christ that overcomes the betrayal of our hearts. The victory of the resurrection overcomes the betrayers’ kiss.

We need Holy Week to face the vision of ourselves as Christ’s betrayer. This week, we cannot cast an accusatory finger at someone else. We must point that finger at ourselves. We are not spectators of the Christ’s Passion, we are actors within the drama of salvation.

Palm Sunday the message was, “Hosanna too the Son of David; blessed is he who cometh in the Name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest (Mt 21:9),” as the St. James worshippers processed from the Glebe house to the chapel. Shortly thereafter, the message from the Gospel repeatedly insisted, “Crucify him, Crucify him (Mt. 27:22).”

Jesus ScourgedSunday we celebrated Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem where he will be betrayed into the hands of sinful men. There he will be spitefully treated. He will be spat upon. He will be mocked, beaten, crucified, and he will die. We are there, like the people in the crowd. We, humanity are on display in all our ugliness.

We have all betrayed Christ. That is central to our understanding of Holy Week. “All we like sheep have gone astray (Is 53:6).” We must ask ourselves as did the disciples in the Upper Room with Jesus, “Is it I Lord?” “Am I the one who will betray you?” We must realize that you and I have betrayed God and one another. In our sin, we betray the truth and goodness of God and apart from God, there is no truth or goodness in us.

Our betrayal of Christ is made visible to us in Christ’s crucifixion. The point of the whole matter is to move us toward penitence. In our penitence, God moves us toward love. We become new beings in Christ that serves God with a heart of gratitude.

I am certain that many people will read this and deny that betray Christ. People believe that they are good people, that they are nice people and quite unlike the people who Crucified Jesus.

Well my friends and parishioners, if you think that, you are wrong. Every human being is implicated in Christ’s crucifixion by our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Jesus CrucifiedYou and I are guilty of the blood of Christ through our betrayals, but God is merciful. Jesus turns our condemnation into joy. Jesus suffers our betrayal in his death on the cross, but then he rises from the dead. He comes to reconcile himself with us.

This week, contemplate your betrayal, but accept Christ’s offer of reconciliation. Humble yourself. Admit your sin, then accept Christ’s love and forgiveness. Trust in Jesus’ promises. Believe that like him, you too will one day rise from the dead and live forever in Paradise.

The Heavenly Jerusalem

The Heavenly JerusalemThe heavenly Jerusalem is our spiritual home. On earth, the Church is Jerusalem, nourished by God (Rev. 12:6). When our Lord returns, the Church will be the bride of Christ, the holy city, the New Jerusalem, descending upon a new earth for the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 21:1, 19:7).

In comparison, the earthly city is perverted by the pride of life (Gal. 4:25 and Rev. 17:1-6). The pride of life is defined as an unwillingness to acknowledge God’s authority over Creation. Instead, the earthly city tries to subvert God’s will with its own. Subverting God’s will for one’s own was Jesus’ third temptation. Jesus was tempted by the devil’s offer of worldly glory. Such a temptation excludes God. Jesus’ answered the devil’s offer with the words, “Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. (Mt. 4:10),” and those are words we ourselves must heed, lest we fall to this temptation.

Thanks to God we are not citizens of the earthly city, but of the city of God. We share in the marriage supper of the Lamb. In the Eucharist, we receive a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. That is the point of Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 in the wilderness. Jesus is the true bread come down from heaven. If you eat this bread, you will live forever (John 6:51). That meal and our Lord’s Supper anticipate the banquet in the coming kingdom.

The Gospel lesson for Lent III (Lk. 11: 14-28) warned us not to be satisfied that our souls are clear of demons and empty of faith in God. Absent Jesus in our hearts, sin returns and we are in a worse state than before. We must fill our souls with Jesus, the bread of life. He is present to us in Word and Sacrament. Jesus refreshes us so that we may follow him to Jerusalem.

Finally, my friends, as I shared on Sunday, the Parish is the outpost of the true Jerusalem on earth. The Church’s task is to mother those who belong to Christ, with word, sacrament, discipline, and teaching; to rebuke and cast out demons, and to nourish souls. That is bread in the wilderness. Find your refreshment here, and invite others to the feast.

Resist the “Lust of the Flesh” Through Lenten Discipline

Christ and the Canaanite Woman

Christ and the Canaanite Woman

In the Collect for the Second Sunday in Lent, we pray and reflect in our prayer the humility and persistence of the Canaanite woman in the Gospel reading;

Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the collect, we recognize that God’s power is necessary to defend us from external enemies, as well as internal enemies that attack our minds and souls, the result of which is sinful behavior. We pray for God’s help in resisting temptation, since we have no power of our own to help ourselves. Our resistance to temptation is itself a grace from God.

St. John’s first epistle speaks of three classes of temptation, “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world (1 Jn 2:16).” These classes of temptation are the focus of the Second, Third and Fourth Sundays in Lent. This week’s Epistle bids us to reflect upon and resist the lust of the flesh.

 
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, the Canaanite Woman’s daughter is “…grievously vexed with a devil (Mt 15:22).” This description applies to people in the present day every bit as much as it applied in the first century. If sin has hold over you, you are in possession of a demon.

Ask yourself, where does sin come from? All sin is an attempt to replace God’s truth with a a created, corruptible image (Rom 1:18-23). All sin comes from embracing a lie (Rom 1:25). Embracing a lie means giving your heart over to the devil, the father of lies (Jn 8:44). When you give your heart to the devil, you are possessed by a demon.

It is difficult to eliminate possessions that result from the lusts of the flesh.

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen (Rom 1:24-25).

The lust of the flesh includes sinful desires for the material goods of this world, including sexual desire, therefore fornication is a fundamental enemy of our sanctification (I Thess 4:3). There are two reasons for this. First, this sin is a transgression against our brothers and sisters (I Thess 4:6). It violates the holiness of other people. Second, it is a sin against our own bodies (I Cor 6:18) that separates our bodies from Christ’s mystical body. It drives the Holy Spirit from our body, his temple, and fouls that temple (I Cor 6:12-20).

Our modern culture does not believe these things. Advertising and our entertainment economy bombards us with images designed to tempt us and lead us to sin. Being unchaste replaces natural love and undermines relationships.

Our Lenten task is to shed unchastity, and all disproportionate desire for the world’s goods through prayer, fasting, and alms giving. This week contemplate the Canaanite woman from the Gospel reading. May we display the same humility, faith and perseverance as she. We must persist even when God seems to resist our requests. God will answer our prayers and defend us, “…from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul.”

The Ember Days

ember-daysThe Wednesday of the First Sunday in Lent, is a day of fasting called an Ember Day. Biblical support for the fasts comes from Zachariah 8:19;

Thus saith the LORD of hosts; The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love the truth and peace.

Tradition ascribes the recognition of these days to Pope Callistus I (c. 218-225). By the fifth century, Ember days were associated with Ordination. It was traditional to confer Holy Orders the Saturday of the first week of Lent. In the Collect for the Ember Days, we pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire men to be drawn to the ministry of reconciliation, so that mankind may be drawn to God’s Kingdom. Ember Days fall on the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent, the Feast of Pentecost, September 14, and December 13.

The Epistle for Ember Days comes from Acts 13:44-49. In the Epistle, we read of Saints Paul and Barnabas in Antioch of Pisidia. The Gospel Message is rejected by the Jews, and so the Evangelists turn to the Gentiles who gladly receive the message.

The Gospel reading for Ember Days comes from Luke 4:16-21 where we read of Jesus’ appearance in the synagogue of Nazareth. There, Jesus reads Isaiah 61:1-2;

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD

Jesus sits after reading the passage and proclaims, “This day, is this scripture fulfilled in your ears (Lk 4:21).” Jesus is saying he is the Messiah. He is the fulfillment of the prophets. He is God’s anointed one. He is the light to the Gentiles (Is 42:6, Lk 2:32 & Acts 13:47).

On Ember Days, we should pray for those discerning their call to Holy Orders. I also think there is a broader message. Jesus came to “…preach the gospel to the poor (Lk 4:18).” As the Body of Christ, we all have a calling, a role to pray in bringing the saving Gospel message to the poor. We, who are members of the Body of Christ, are a body of many members so that we may do Christ’s work in the world today. During Lent, and during the Ember Days this week, we should all reflect upon our calling to the ministry of reconciliation. We must ask ourselves if we are doing the work we are called to do.

In considering your work, think momentarily upon the Example of Mother Theresa. Mother

Mother Theresa

Mother Theresa

Theresa lived a humble life, feeding, clothing, and living amongst the poorest of the poor. She knew human need and answered God’s call to serve. She said in her book, A Simple Path;

The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.

Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Incarnate love every human needs. Jesus Christ is, “…the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever (Jn 6:51)” The Bread of Life is the only food that satisfies the human hunger for love.
People in our world are perishing from hunger. We learn from this week’s Gospel lesson that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God (Deut 8:3; Mt 4:4).” No matter how well fed or hungry a person may be physically, if they do not receive the bread of life, the Word of God, they are perishing. Life comes from God’s Word. We must make every effort “to proclaim the good news to the poor (Lk 4:18).” The poor may be poor in estate, or poor in spirit. Indeed, there is a famine on earth, “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD (Am 8:11).”

So, my friends and parishioners of St. James Church, God is love, and we possess the love of God by possessing His life. We receive His Body and Blood in Holy Communion. Jesus said, “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day (Jn 6:53-54).” The world is starving, starving for love. This hunger can only be satisfied by the love of God. We must share this infinite love of ours and bring life into the world.

Our Lord accepted his role of ministry. He must be the example of how we live in the world. We must pattern ourselves after his ministry of love and reconciliation.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised (Lk 4:18)

Christians Must Learn to Listen

Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52

Jesus heals blind Bartimaeus Mark 10:46-52

I recently read the, “The Outsider Interviews: A New Generation Speaks Out on Christianity” a book by Craig Spinks, Jim Henderson, and Todd Hunter that explores the thoughts of men and women in their 20’s and 30’s about Christianity. The book gives examples of Christians who effectively connect with the millennial generation and lead them to a life in Christ. One of those discussed is Kirk Wullf of Christ Church Anglican in Kansas City, Missouri.

Kirk loves Starbucks. He also loves connecting with people outside the Church. He spends a quarter of his day at the local Starbucks, just “hanging out.” He goes there, reads the paper, works on his computer and, notices people.

People trust Kirk, and he loves them back. Kirk is a connector. While traditional evangelists have specialized oratory skills, Kirk listens. A traditional evangelist may win people to Christ at revivals, “connectors” like Kirk listen, love, build relationships, and woo people to Christ. The most important question Kirk has to ask is, “How are you?” Kirk does the same things that all of us do. He starts conversations, listens to people, and builds relationships. The difference is that Kirk does it intentionally.

Today face-to-face dialogue occurs less frequently as people become isolated by technology. The more technologically connected people are, the lonelier they become. People long for personal connection. Christians should take advantage of this deficit of personal connection and build relationships with people outside Christ’s community.

Every Christian is a minister to the Gospel. When Jesus gave the command to, “…go and make disciples of all nations,” he spoke to all Christians. It is the job of every Christian to aid in the spread of the Gospel, and building relationships is something everyone can do. Connecting with people requires no special knowledge, unusual intelligence, or specialized skills.

Culture is undergoing a significant shift. One of the occurring shifts is that we live in a world that is skeptical about everything. People are tired of spin-doctors. They are tired of being lied to and manipulated. They wonder, “What is the truth?” Christians understand that Jesus Christ is, “the truth,” and must lead people to that “truth.”

Christians must ask, “How do people find sources of truth they believe to be dependable?” People find and pass along truth in a variety of different ways, and one of those ways is through community. Presently relationships, community, and conversation are prized over empiricism and rationalism. By intentionally taking interest in people outside the Church and building relationships with them, Kirk Wullf becomes a dependable source of truth for non-Christians. Christian, you too can build relationships and become a dependable source of truth.

Jesus is the greatest example of a relationship builder. In Jesus, God Almighty converses with human beings. Through Jesus, God listens. Through Jesus, God has human ears, a human heart, and a human brain. Through Jesus, God listened to people in first century Palestine and heard them, just as you and I do today. It is remarkable that God cares about what people have to say. In listening to people, and caring for what they say, God gains nothing. God doesn’t need anything from us. God is complete in and of Himself, and yet in Jesus, the Word of God become flesh, God listens.

Even after the Jesus’ Ascension into heaven, He still listens to us. Christian prayer is directed to Jesus. We often end our prayers, “…through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” He hears us and responds to us. In His response, we learn something about Him and about ourselves. Jesus loves us, and develops a relationship with us through the Holy Spirit.

Jesus is the exemplar of evangelism. Engage in conversation as He did, and don’t just talk, listen. Take a genuine interest in other people. Take an interest in people with whom you may not normally associate. The Word of God was in Heaven, perfectly fine in His association within the Holy Trinity. Nothing was added to Him by coming and living as one of us, amongst us. Yet He did so because He loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. He redeemed us by His work on the cross. That redemption is for everyone who will enter into a relationship with Him, a relationship where Jesus is Lord and Savior.

Christians, be a connector. Be like Jesus by associating with people who offer you nothing. Converse with them, but most importantly, hear them. Take an interest in them. Listen to them and to what they say. Love them, build a relationship with them and become a trusted source of truth for them, then introduce them to the source of all truth, Jesus Christ the Lord.