The Last Judgment

last judgement

Lessons – Isaiah 65:17-25; Psalm 126; I Thess 5:12-28; St. John 3:23-30

Let me begin by pointing out a liturgical matter. Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent and it is known as Gaudete Sunday. That name means “rejoice” which in the older liturgies was the first word of introit for the day. Its color can be rose to indicate that the end of this penitential season is close and rejoicing draweth nigh. (By the way when I wear it, it is a rose vestment. When Fr. Chris wears it, it’s okay to call it pink).

Sixty five years ago, December 1952, the angel of death swept through London. London has always been famous for their pea soup fog but this was a fog of a whole other magnitude. Stale calm air wrapped London like a blanket. It was called an “anticyclone” because it was the exact opposite of whirling winds. It was a deadly calm like the one mentioned in the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.

It was also extreemly cold so Londoners were stoking their coal fires. But because the premium coal was being shipped to the US to pay back war debts Londoners were burning dregs and coal dust. This made the smoke from the thousands of fireplaces more acidic than usual, and combined with the blanket of still air, it became deadly. Visibility dropped to less than one foot. Buses and cars came to a stop. Many abandoned their vehicles and tried to make it through the darkness on foot. By the time they arrived at their homes their lungs were filled with blackness, like that of a West Virginia coal miner, except in the case of the Londoners it took only hours instead of years. In the first 7 days 4,000 died and some estimates put it as high as 12,000 deaths over the next few weeks. It gave occasion to some to wonder if London was experiencing divine judgment.

In this season of Advent we are to be preparing ourselves not only for Christ’s first advent but also for Christ’s second when He will come to judge the quick and the dead. We say that we believe this when we recite the Creed but what do we actually believe about Judgment Day?

More progressive views suggest that the idea of God’s judgment is a primitive idea from the Old Testament that should be replaced by the kinder and gentler God of the New Testament. But it is not that easy to dismiss this concept. When you compare the plagues of Egypt with the judgment that Jesus Himself speaks of, when He describes a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 13:42), the NT judgment makes the OT judgment seem tame by compariston.

So as uncomfortable as it may be for us to think about the final judgment, it is a reality that we need to face. Perhaps the place to begin is to determine on what basis we will be judged.

It will not surprise you to know that this is a matter of debate within the Church. And this is so because some passages seem to indicate that we will be judged according to our works while other passages seem to indicate that we will avoid judgment if we have true faith. For example at the end of our Gospel reading today John the Baptist say this; “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36). Well which is it John? Is it belief that saves us or is it obedience? Is it faith of is it works?

And lest you think that John is mistaken here because St. Paul makes it clear that we are saved by grace through faith, listen to St. Paul in Romans chapter 2. “For there is going to come a day of judgment when God, the just judge of all the world, will judge all people according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who persist in doing what is good…but he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and practice evil deeds.” (NLT)

Okay so which is it? Are we saved from judgment by trusting in Jesus or are we judged based upon our works. The Anglican via media answer to that question is “Yes.” It is “Yes” because the apparent contradiction is just that, not a true contradiction. In essence we are talking about two sides of the same coin. One side of the coin may produce the other but without two sides there is no coin.

Let me illustrate it this way. Imagine that you were in abject poverty and a very wealthy person had compassion on you and opened a bank account for you with $10,000,000. But even though you know that this had been done for you, you never touch a dime of it. You could go around and tell everyone that you are a millionaire ten times over, but because you are still in rags, there would be no evidence of it. In spite of the numbers in your account you would not be in a place to help anyone else and you would die as a pauper.

Now imagine the opposite. Imagine that you took the 37 offers for new credit cards that you get each day in the mail and open numerous accounts and max each card to their limits. You purchase new clothes, new furnishings, even a new car. From outward appearances you would look like you are rolling in the dough, but in terms of real assets, you would be totally bankrupt.

The pauper that was made rich but did nothing with it, is like the person who has faith but never puts it into action. That is the empty religion about which James warns us when he says that faith without works is dead. That is the person to whom Jesus says, “But I was hungry and you did not feed me, naked and you did not clothe me….I never knew you.”

Meanwhile the person who acts rich, but in reality is bankrupt, is like the person who thinks that they will be saved by their good works. They ignore the reality that their debt of sin is so monumental that no amount of good works could ever cancel the debt. That is why we need a Savior to pay the price for us that we cannot pay.

The true picture of how faith and obedience are two sides of the same coin is seen in the person who realizes that they have been made “rich” by the mercy of God and then use their “riches” to love and serve God and neighbor. Faith without works is poverty. Obedience without faith is bankrupt self-righteousness. Faith accompanied with obedience is storing up treasures in heaven.

So if we have faith accompanied by obedience are we exempt from the day of Judgment? The short answer is “No.” We are exempt from the wrath of God, we are exempt from the punishment of the second death, but we are not exempt from having our works judged. This is from Corinthians. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.”

What we have built with our lives is going to be inspected on the Last Day. If we used wood, hay and straw, our works will not pass inspection. If we used gold and silver and costly stones, we will not only pass inspection but we will be rewarded.

If you didn’t know better you would think that St. Paul stole this analogy from the story of the 3 little pigs. But message of both is the same. We can build our lives around things that are temporary and common or we can build our lives around things that are permanent and precious. We can focus our lives on the things of this world that are passing away or we can seek the permanency of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

So in preparation during this Advent it would do us well to ask ourselves what Christ will find in our lives on the day of His coming? Will He find the wood of consumerism or the gold of generosity? Will He find the hay of selfishness or the silver a servant’s heart? Will he find the straw of amusement or the costly stones of worship.

And here is the good news. In fact it is really good news. If we will build our lives with gold and silver and costly stones then we can actually look forward to the Day of Judgment rather than dreading it. Why would we look forward to it? Because, as Calvin once said, on that day we will be receiving not a “slaves wages” but a “son’s inheritance.”

Listen again to the words of the prophet Isaiah. “Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for behold I create Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress.’”

Every day we wake up to very bad news. We learn of some bonehead decision of our government, or corruption in the highest places, or shootings in our cities, or terrorist attacks at home and abroad, or a little maniac in North Korea threatening to start World War III. You have to work hard at being an optimist and live a life that is marked by joy. But it is still possible if we will fix our hopes where they should be fixed. Jesus told us that in this life we will have much tribulation but then He went on to say, “But fear not, I have overcome the world.” In this life there is no end of sorrows but in the new heaven and new earth there will be no more weeping. Sin and death will not even be remembered or come to mind. God will be glad in us and we will be glad forever. Our calling is not only to prepare ourselves for that wonderful day but also to tell others about it so that they will share in that joy with us.

The result of the tragedy that happened 65 years ago was a revamping of the way Londoners lived. They moved quickly from having coal fires as almost a birthright to other forms of energy. The tragedy literally made them clean up their acts. We do not have to wait until a tragedy to do the same. The knowledge that the Bible gives us about the Day of Judgment tells us what we need to do. Because we know that He is coming like a thief in the night, and we because we know why He is coming, we can act now so that rather than fearing the day of His coming we will welcome it with joy. That is why this day begins with “Rejoice.” Amen.

 

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Put off the Deeds of Darkness: Put on the Armor of Light

Armor of Light

I know that “hate” is a strong word but I think that it accurately describes my feelings. I hate, hate, HATE daylight savings time. It is bad enough that the days grow shorter by themselves but we also have the federal government stepping in and fiddling with our clocks so that by 7 pm it feels like midnight. Even my chickens get confused. I find all of the darkness downright depressing and I know that I am not alone.

Evidently our aversion to darkness goes much further back than the advent of daylight savings times. A recent study at the University of Toronto suggested that our aversion is a “foreboding anxiety” that goes back to the days when man was not at the top of the food chain. It goes back to the days when saber tooth tigers would ask each other who they were having for dinner.

That study makes sense to me but I would argue that there is also a spiritual connection to our negative feelings about darkness. I believe that because throughout the Scriptures, in the vast majority of cases, darkness is a state to be avoided. In Genesis, what was the first thing that God created? It was the light was it not? This was to end what the Hebrews called “tohu va vohu” which is “formlessness and void.” It was God’s light that broke the darkness over the abyss and brought form and order, goodness and beauty.

In Exodus, darkness was the ninth plague the God sent over Egypt. The Bible describes it as a darkness that could be felt. The text goes on to day, “but all the people of Israel had light where they lived.” (Ex 10:21,23).

God chose Israel to be His people, not just for His own possession, but as Isaiah says, to be a light to the nations because the nations were walking in darkness. Israel failed in this task so God in His mercy sends the True Light who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (Jn 8:12).

Not only does the theme of darkness and light continue all through the Gospels but that same imagery appears multiple times in 11 of the New Testament Epistles. And when we come to the end in the Revelation of John we see the utter defeat of darkness. Speaking of the New Jerusalem that descends from heaven we read, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there.” What a fit ending to a story that began, “And God said, ‘Let there be light.’” 

Thus in our collect today we pray for grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armor of light. This is phrase taken directly from St. Paul’s letter to the Roman chapter 13 verse 12. Then in the next two verses he tells us in very practical terms how we can go about casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light. Given that we are entering the penitential season of Advent, that seems to be exactly what we should be about these days.

St. Paul continues; “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealously. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires.”

Before we dig into this injunction I want to ask a question. This directive is about 2,000 years old, so how could it possibly be relevant for us today? We certainly wouldn’t take medical advice that is 2,000 years old. Back then if you were suffering from migraines they drilled a hole in your head to let the demons out. So why would we accept ancient spiritual advice?

The simple answer is that we heed it because it is God’s truth and God’s truth is never outdated. Jesus said that heaven and earth would pass away before God’s truth passes away and so these texts always remain relevant. Allow me to demonstrate how that is so.

At first it may appear that St. Paul is just grabbing some random sins to illustrate his point about walking properly as Christians but the commentators of the English Standard Version point out that the sins that he listed fall into three categories. The list includes personal sins, interpersonal sins and societal sins.

He illustrates personal sins by pointing out orgies and drunkenness. Or what today we refer to as addictions. The difference between St. Paul and modern therapy however is that while St. Paul would probably have no trouble calling addictions an illness, he would also call it a sin from which a believer should repent and turn. In fact this more complete understanding of addiction is why Christian treatment facilities have such a high degree of success. I knew one such facility in Florida that had the federal government come study it because they could not believe their results. But of course the Feds did not want to hear the reasons why they were so successful. Even back then it wasn’t pc to tell an addict that as well as being ill he was also a sinner.

Is St. Paul’s council relevant today? Is addiction a problem today? Accidental death by drug overdose is the number one killer in the US. From 1999 to 2008 it has increased by 400% and much of this is due to the current national plague of opioid and heroin addictions. So yes, we could still use St. Paul’s help.

The next category is interpersonal sins. St. Paul mentions “sexual immorality and sensuality” I really don’t need to ask if this is still relevant today do I? Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Al Franken, Matt Lauer….and the end of the list is not in sight! The objectification of women is rampant in every level of our society and if you don’t see this as the bad fruit of the so-called sexual revolution of my generation then you are not going to be a part of the solution. How ironic it is that our culture spews out so much garbage and then is shocked to discover that it stinks.

By contrast a man who puts on Christ will treat women with the same respect that our Lord did when He walked among us. St. Paul says that a husband is to see his wife as an icon of the Bride of Christ and therefore is treat her with the same love and respect as Christ does the Church.

The third category of darkness that St. Paul says we are to avoid involves societal sins. He speaks of quarreling and jealously. I believe that those two sins, along with the sin of covetousness, are fueling some of the deep deepdivisions within our nation.

If you have a job then you know how hard you have to work to earn your money and make ends meet. And yet a new crop of social justice warriors have emerged to tell you that you are not doing your fair share and that you need to give them more free stuff. As it stands today nearly half of our nation pays zero federal income tax but to the jealous and covetous those of us who do pay taxes need to do more and more and more. Jealousy and covetousness are never satisfied.

And what is even worse to me is that in spite of the horrible fact that communism murdered over 90 million people last century, a recent survey by a site called federal.com reports rapidly increasing positive attitudes in our nation towards Karl Marx and his beliefs. One generation of our citizens give him a 64% favorable rating. This acceptance of a murderous atheistic philosophy will only further our divisions.

By contrast an important societal fruit of the Gospel is that it heals our divisions. Rather than quarreling and jealousy and covetousness, there is peace and unity and genuine joy when you see your brother blessed. Instead of allowing the government to steal from its citizens and redistribute the wealth, the early Church voluntarily cared for their own because the love of Jesus compelled them to do so. But even then the Church was not given to wholesale welfare. She helped those who could not work, but not those who would not work. We know this because of St. Paul’s admonition in II Thessalonians. He said, “Even while we were with you, we gave you this command, ‘Those unwilling to work will not get to eat.’ Yet we hear that some of you are living idle lives, refusing to work and meddling in peoples’ business. We command such people and urge them in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and work to earn their own living.” NLT (3:10-12).

The spirit of mercy and generosity flourished with the Church and it is why so many benevolent institutions around the world today can point to their Christian roots. As one guy put it, you don’t find many atheist run soup kitchens.

I hope that I have demonstrated the relevancy of St. Paul’s admonition for us to cast away darkness and put on the armor of light. But some may think that because they are not actively engaged in addictions or sexual abuse or quarrels that they are off the hook. But allow me to take our application of this passage one step further.

I will remind us that when Jesus taught about these kinds of sins He not only told us not to engage in such activity but He went further and said that if they even exist in our hearts then we are equally guilty. “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment… “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

Thus when we think of not engaging in deeds of darkness we must also address any darkness that may exists in our hearts. And so this penitential season of Advent is a gift to us so that we may prepare our hearts to receive the light of Christ.

And herein is another key point. The text not only commands us to cast off the works of darkness but it also commands us to “put on the armor of light.” How do we do that? Again I go back to the commentators for the English Standard Version. They say, “The metaphor of putting on clothing implies not just imitating Christ’s character but also living in close personal fellowship with him.” (p. 2180).

Brennan Manning writes beautifully of how he came into this close personal fellowship with our Lord. “For too long and too often on my journey I have sought the shelter of hand-clapping liturgies and cerebral Scripture studies…yet when the scholarly investigation was over I was struck by the insignificance of it all…But when the night is bad and my nerves are shattered…when God Almighty shares through his Son the depth of his feelings for me, when his love flashes into my soul…I face a momentous decision…either I escape into skepticism and intellectualism, or with radical amazement I surrender in faith to the truth of my belovedness.” (Reflections of a Ragamuffin p.335).

In his first epistle of St. John tells us two things that God is. John says that “God is light” and “God is love” and the implication is that to experience one is to experience the other. It is the love of God that leads us to His light and it is the light of God draws us to His love. So I pray that the light of this season will draw us deeper into God’s love and as we experience that love we find yourself drawn more fully into the light. Amen. “Put off the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light

 

 

 

Tearing Down Idols

Tearing Down Idols

As I began studying the lessons for this week I started with the Old Testament Lesson, reading it first in the Revised Standard Version. I came across this line in Zephaniah. “I will punish the men who are thickening on their lees..” To be honest I had no idea what a thick lee was but given the threat to be punished I hoped that I didn’t have one. But gratefully we are reading the lessons in the English Standard Version that makes it much clearer. In this translation it say “I will punish the men who are complacent…those who say in their hearts ‘The Lord will not do good nor will he do ill.’”

This is the context that reveals the subject of the men’s complacency. They had not rid themselves their idols, as the Lord commanded. And in addition they convinced themselves that the Lord was not going to do anything about it. That is why they said to themselves, “The Lord will not do good or ill.” But according to the prophet they were about to have a rude awakening.

When I read of their complacency my mind went immediately to Jesus speaking to the Church at Laodicea in the Revelation to John. Jesus says, “I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot or cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.” This complacent/lukewarm church in Laodicea was also about to have a rude awakening.

The connection between Zephaniah and Revelation is their devotion to the idols that result their complacency and lukewarmness. It doesn’t use the word “idol” in Revelation but listen to why Jesus says that they are lukewarm and the idolatry becomes clear. “For you say I am rich. I have prospered and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked.” Their wealth has replaced their need for God and so their wealth has become an idol. As Martin Luther put it, “Whatever your heart clings to and trusts in is your god.” 

As difficult as these words are to hear, they call upon us today to do some serious soul searching and ask the Lord if we are Laodiceans. I say that because I am pretty certain that none of us wants to be spit out of the Lord’s mouth. And in case you are saying to yourself that you are not rich, let me offer some perspective.

Here are two $1 bills. Over half of the world lives on this per day. 2 bucks! I pay more for that for a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts! According to the New York Times last September, the median income for an American family is $59,000. Meanwhile over half of the world has an annual income of about $730. That means that the typical American family makes 80 times what over half the world makes in a year. 80 Times! Can you imagine if someone from those parts of the world heard us talking on our Bluetooth while driving our nice cars saying, “I just don’t know how I am going to make ends meet and here the preacher is talking about tithing. He must have lost his everlovin mind!”

Let me make this personal. By American standards, I as a priest and Beth as a social worker together make an income that would be considered middle class. But by the standards of the rest of the world we are wealthy. I mean not just wealthy but stinken rich and therein lies the problem. Why? Because Jesus spoke about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He said that it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for me to enter the kingdom of God. That verse rightfully troubles me.

I heard Francis Chan preach on this passage and he said that he has studied this passage for over 20 years and he has finally come to understand what Jesus really meant when He say that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. He said that what Jesus really means was that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Oh my.

Of course the saving line of that portion of Scripture is when the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” And Jesus answers, “With man it is impossible but with God all things are possible.” So I have hope but I can’t think for a minute that this qualification lets me off the hook so that I can return to my idol and be comfortable with my complacency and lukewarmness.

So rather it feels that way or not, the reality is that we in America are rich and that presents us with a challenge. How do we know money if is an idol to us?

To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “If you are spending most of your paycheck to pay on consumer debt, you might be a Laodicean.” “If you are seeking financial security above seeking first the kingdom of God, you might be a Laodicean.” “If you give to God your leftovers rather than His first fruits off the top, you might be a Laodicean.” “If you are financially well off but you are hoarding it for yourself rather than sewing it into the kingdom, you might be a Laodicean.”

And of course money is not the only idol that we have in this country. Why we even have a TV show called American Idol and it is aptly named because we are idolatrous in our love of fame. Last week it was on both TV and radio news all day long that Taylor Swift showed up in a local T J Max. Imagine that!! The news folks were so excited about this report that you would have thought that someone had just discovered a cure for cancer. And think of all the ones idolized who simply are famous for being famous.

What about sports? Don’t even get me started. I played sports growing up so I understand the love of a game but come on! You have to admit that sports has become even more than a religion for a vast part of our population. And it’s not just in America. When I lived in Britain the group I was most afraid of were the soccer hooligans. They would get on a train and slash the seats with knives, start fights and even kill folks who supported the opposing team…sacrificing humans to their gods.

Imagine if in order to save money our Vestry decided not to put a roof on the Chapel and we had no heat or air conditioning in the building. In addition imagine that we charged your $50 for parking. Do you think that would have a wee bit of an affect on our Sunday attendance? And yet it could be 5 below and sleeting and folks would still consider it a privilege to pour into Nissan Stadium and freeze their buns off to watch the Titans. “If watching a leather ball getting moved around is more important to you than receiving the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, you might be a Laodicean.”

Sex, politics, amusement, success, I could go on and on about the idols in our society and so could you. But we must also be aware of idols in the Church.

If you know the Bible from cover to cover but you are still as mean as a snake in a sack then you could rightfully be accused of bibliolatry. I have known Anglicans who seem to worship the liturgy even more than the Lord of the liturgy if they even know Him at all. And you have probably met “Christians” who all but hate you if you do not share their doctrines. That too is idolatry. The list of idols in the Church also seems endless. So what do we do about it? How do we tear down our idols?

The answer comes in our lessons today. St. Paul tells us who we are and Jesus tells us what to do. If we will follow their wisdom then we will be anything but complacent or enticed by idols. We will begin to tear down our idols.

First St. Paul tells us who we are. “For you are children of the light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness…for since we belong to the day let us be sober having put on the breastplate of faith and love and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”

Jesus declared “I am the light of the world.” If we are “in Christ”, as it repeatedly describes in the New Testament, then we are children of the light. We will share His passion for the kingdom. We will share His compassion for the sick and the poor and the defenseless. We will share His trust of the Father to bring all things to their appointed ends. We will share His knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God.

And notice what St. Paul says that we put on as our armor. Faith, hope and love. Sound familiar? If the ultimate pursuit of your life is to fbe amous or to be the best dressed or to have the best cars or to live in the best homes, then you will be naturally drawn to the consumer gods. But if you seek to clothe yourself with faith, hope and love then you will be drawn to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who alone grants us these things. So St. Paul tells us who we are. We are children of the light and we need to live accordingly in faith, hope and love.

Next Jesus tells us what to do to avoid complacency and idolatry. He tells a parable to exhort us to become wise stewards. He calls us to this because if we are stewards of God then we will not be servants of the world because a man cannot serve two Masters. But before we can become wise stewards we must first understand what it means to be a steward.

A steward is not an owner. A steward manages that which belongs to the Master on the Master’s behalf. Here is where we rich folks often get it wrong. We think that it belongs to us and so we can do with it whatever we choose. We fail to understand that as stewards we will give an accounting for what we have done with the Master’s resources.

The parish that I came from in Chattanooga was a very wealthy one and I learned there that rich folks also tend to give with strings attached because they wrongly think that it is their money. They fall to the temptation to think like an owner rather than a steward. Conversely I knew a wealthy guy who was incredibly generous and he used to say to me, “I’m not worried about giving it away because it’s not mine in the first place. Besides God has plenty more where that came from.” That’s thinking like a steward.

In this parable Jesus calls on us not just to be a stewards but to be wise stewards. How do we do that?

First we reject the wicked servant’s perspective. He saw the Master as a hard and unfair man and that perspective led to him being paralyzed with fear. He said, “So I was afraid and hid your talent in the ground.”

But that is not the God and Father that Jesus came to reveal. Jesus came to reveal a God who, as we read in the Psalms, has “been our refuge from one generation to another.” He is a Father who is full of compassion, who did not even spare His own Son for us. This view of God will allows us to take risks and step out in faith rather than being frozen with fear.

Second we become wise stewards when we put the Master’s resources where it has the best opportunity to grow. That is what the stewards in the parable did. And we find those places where His resources can grow when we start thinking like stewards who make the kingdom their priority.

For example when you buy a new car the dealer will walk you out and pat you on the back and tell you that you have made a wise investment. But that is a lie. A new car is not an investment because that the new car will depreciate 19% in the first year. You lose hundreds of dollars just driving it out of the dealership!

What if instead you bought a reliable used car and took the difference between that and a new car and gave it to Food for the Poor or sponsored a child at World Vision or sewed it into St. Patrick’s? It is my conviction that it is in this way that we see the Master’s resources grow because we would be helping to grow His kingdom which is His priority.

And the win/win for us in being wise stewards is that it takes our hearts away from idols and put them where they need to be. The Scripture tells us that where our treasure is, there will our hearts be also. Our hearts follow the money. If we sew our treasure into idols then we will be idolaters. If we sew our treasure into the kingdom then that is where our hearts will be and we will be honored as wise stewards.

So in the end this parable tells us that we have two choices. Our choices are to either be rebuked because of our thickening lees or being blessed because we became wise stewards. On the Last Day rather than being spit out of Jesus’ mouth we will hear, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master.”

Equality or Justice?

No Equality

It seems that many of the debates in our society today center around the idea of equality. We hear of social equality, marriage equality and more recently the hot topic is income equality. While at first blush these ideals seem to concur with Christian ethics, as the saying goes, “it ain’t necessarily so.”

Christian ethics would have us champion justice rather than equality. Amos 5:24 “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never failing stream.”

The prophet Micah said

“He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

Justness is an attribute of God, and because man is created in His image, there is an inherent desire for justice as well as a disdain for injustice. Equality however is a different story. It is not a biblical concept. Jesus set the opposite example of equality by “not regarding equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Phil 2:6). St Paul says that we are to have that same mind and goes on to say, “Do noting from rivalry or conceit but in humility count others a more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)

Jesus treated all of His disciples justly but He did not treat them equally. He was particularly close to John, whom the Scriptures call “beloved.” He had a unique relationship with Peter, James and John, taking them alone to the Mount of Transfiguration. He had a different relationship with the 12 Apostles than he did with the 72 disciples as well as the 120 and the masses.

Even in the life to come there will not be equality. Jesus tells the Apostles that they will sit on the 12 thrones and judge the twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19:28). While I don’t pretend to understand what that means exactly it does tell me that I won’t be on a throne because those seats are already taken. I seriously doubt that I will spend eternity pouting because “that’s not fair.”

It seems in the distribution of gifts and ministries that the Holy Spirit is also uninterested in equality. St. Paul tells us that prophecy is a greater gift than tongues. In the list of ministries “apostles” take precedent over “pastors and teachers.” All in the Body of Christ are gifted but not all are gifted equally. Some gifts have more honor than others. That is all by the Spirit’s choice who treats no one unjustly.

The danger of equality is that it is rooted in covetousness. Equality is expressed when I demand what you have, even if I have done nothing to deserve or earn it. Equality, especially income equality, is a Marxist concept that is the fruit and fuel of dialectical materialism. In theory it does sound like a utopian dream but because of the fall of man, it became a nightmare. Last century 94 million people were killed under this quest for equality in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea and Eastern Europe. That is over 15 times the number that died in the Holocaust, over which we are justifiably outraged. There is not one example anywhere in the world that this Marxist demand for equality has worked.

As George Orwell pointed out in Animal Farm, the quest for equality inevitably leads to some pigs being more equal than others. In the supposed communist utopia of Cuba the average worker earns about $25 per month, while according to Forbes the estimated net worth of Fidel Castro was $900 million. It therefore must be concluded that the quest for equality inevitably leads to injustice on a massive scale.

Consider this example. When I was in the university many of my classes were graded on a curve. This meant that a certain percentage would get an A and a certain percentage would fail and the rest would compete for the grades in between. Imagine the response if the professor announced that in the name of equality the nerds, who had burned to midnight oil to get the A’s, would have to share their grades with the jocks, who never came to class, so that everyone comes out with a C. The nerds would rightly be crying out for justice rather than equality.

Eschewing equality, the Christian focuses on justice and this ethic begins with the imago Dei. That is that all men are created in the image of God. We are to treat others with honor and respect and come to the aid of the defenseless such as the widow and orphan and the unborn. We are to champion for those who are treated unjustly because of their sex or race or beliefs. The only equality that we should seek is equality under the law and in this we are really demanding that justice be blind, which it must be if it is to be just.

God’s Vision for You

God's Vision

Last week Fr. Chris challenged us to have a vision for our spiritual lives. He asked where we see ourselves to be spiritually in 3 months or 3 years or 10 years. His point is that we don’t mature by osmosis. He suggested that a good place to begin is with our baptismal covenant and the responsibilities that we promise the Lord that we will undertake. Fr. Chris wrote later, “spiritual growth is not an accident. It has to be a priority and a discipline.” I could not agree more.

So I want to piggyback on his sermon today and suggest to you that having a vision of where you are going begins with a vision of how you see yourself. So who are you? How do you see yourself in relation to God? What do you think that God thinks about you? Your answers will definitely impact your journey.

If you see God as an angry teacher then you will tend to sit in the very back of the class so that He never calls on you. If you see yourself as that last kid that God would pick to be on His team then you will be a no show to the game. If you see yourself as that loser child who is always disappointing his Father then you imagine that every time God see you He lets out a heavy sigh. If you see God as strict taskmaster then you go through your day flinching every time you think that He is about to give you a smack.

The vision that you have of God and of yourself in relationship to God will affect how much you are willing to sacrifice to accomplish your spiritual goals. If the vision is not compelling then the sacrifice simply will not be worth it. But if the vision is compelling then come hell or high water you will do what needs to be done.

First lets tackle the question of how the Lord sees you. We just read it in the Psalm. 149 vs. 4. It says “For the Lord takes pleasure in His people.” There is a beautiful passage in the prophet Zephaniah that takes it a step further.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
    a mighty savior,
Who will rejoice over you with gladness,
    and renew you in his love,
Who will sing joyfully because of you,

Does that fit with your current vision of God, that He rejoices with gladness and sings with joy because of you? This is the God that Jesus came to reveal to us. One who wants us to call him “Father” and is so concerned about every facet of our lives that He knows the number of the hairs on our heads. (Some of us make His job easier). If you ever doubt His love for you then go back to good Friday and remember what He gave up to make you His own. He literally moved heaven and earth to redeem you.

That is how God sees us. So how are we to see ourselves? According to the Scriptures first and foremost we are to see ourselves as people who are in Christ. When you were baptized you were buried with Christ and raised with Him to a new life. This means that you no longer belong to yourself. Jesus tells us that He is the Vine and we are the branches and apart from Him we can do nothing. He is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride “and the two shall be as one.” He unites Himself to us through offering us His Body and Blood so that when we receive the consecrated bread and wine we receive Him. That is how united we are with Him. This is our identity. Who are we? We are “in Christ” that is who we are.

St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians prays that the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened to understand three other things that will impact how we see our selves. First he prays that we would know the hope to which He has called us.

As most of you know, hope is used in a very different way in the New Testament than we use it in today. In the New Testament, hope is a reality in God that we have not yet realized. But it is so certain of a reality that it should affect how we live our lives today.

If you knew that your name was in an irrevocable trust and that at some point in the future that you would inherit a vast fortune, do you think it would have an impact on how you live your life today? Of course it would. If nothing else you wouldn’t any longer worry about your financial future. You would also most likely live more joyously and more generously.

Well our future in Christ is more certain than an irrevocable trust and as St. Paul prayed, may the eyes of our heats be enlightened to see it.

And what is that hope, what is the reality yet to be realized? It is the promised return of Christ. It is the promised resurrection of the dead. It is the promise that these bodies of corruption will be exchanged for incorruptible ones. It is the promise that we will be joint heirs with Christ in a new heaven and a new earth. It is the promise that we will be with the Lord forever.

And should this hope affect how we live our lives today? How could it not? Our hope is what gives us different priorities from the world as well as different values and different goals. The world is about grabbing all the gusto and “he who dies with the most toys wins.” But we are to be about loving God with all of our hearts and loving our neighbors as ourselves. The world is about storing up riches on earth. We are to be about storing up riches in heaven. We understand that while you can’t take it with you, you can send it on ahead by being good stewards of the Lord’s resources. The certainty of our future, our hope, most definitely influences how we live from day to day. If it does not then the eyes of your heart still needs to be enlightened.

The next thing that St. Paul prays for us is in some translations that we would know of his glorious inheritance AMONG the saints. Actually the way this sentence is structured it can also read, as our translation does, that we would know his glorious inheritance IN the saints. They are God’s glorious inheritance. This brings to mind the time of persecution in the early church when the deacon was ordered to turn over the treasures of the church to the governing officials and a couple of days later the deacon brought them the poor and the sick. He understood the true riches of the Church.

“His glorious inheritance in the saints” brings us to our celebration today that is a continuation of our celebration of All Saints’ last Wednesday. The Scriptures tell us to give honor where honor is due and so the Church has made a principle feast and given us two opportunities for doing just that. When you consider it, you realize that we stand on some pretty broad shoulders. It is almost beyond our imaginations what those before us have gone through and suffered and sacrificed in order to give us the precious heritage that we hold so dear. This leaves us with the question if we are willing to do the same for those who come after us? The “faith once delivered to the saints” is a treasure that we are to pass on without addition or dilution.

The third thing for which he prays is that we would know the immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe. If God willed all of these wonderful things for us, but did not have the power to bring them about, then our hope would be nothing more than a wish. But because of His power then all things are possible and so we do not hope in vain. His sovereignty over all secures us in our daily lives and allows us to rest in His will.

In his new book called Anxious For Nothing, Max Lucado tells of a time when he was visiting in Brazil with a long time friend who was a missionary pilot. Max said, He flew a circuit of remote towns in a four-seat plane that threatened to come undone at the slightest gust of wind. Wilbur and Orville had a sturdier aircraft.”

As they were flying over the jungle Max’s mind was filled with visions of crash landing and being swallowed by an anaconda. He gripped his seat and squirmed like a kid. Finally the pilot shouted to him over the noise of the engine, “We won’t face anything that I can’t handle. You might as well trust me to fly the plane.”

If we were to really know the greatness of God’s power toward us, we absolutely could trust Him to fly the plane. Because of the greatness of His power we can see events in our lives as reflections of His loving and powerful care. While not everything that happens to us every day is a direct result of the hand of God, you don’t have to have too many divine appointments happen before you start to doubt coincidences and start believing that the Shepherd is watching over His sheep.

Some people doubt that the Lord is that intimately involved in each of our lives but that is because, to quote JB Phillips, their god is too small. If He can spin universes off of His fingertips then He can get you where you need to be when you need to be there. When I think back over my life I realize that if x or y or z did not happen then I would not be who or where I am today. What brought about the x or y or z in my life if not the power of the Lord? It wasn’t an alignment of the planets and it certainly wasn’t my doing. I’m not smart enough to weave what has become the tapestry of my life.

And where we particularly see His power at work towards us is when He brings good out of evil. In His power He was able to take the execution of the only sinless Man who ever lived and make it the very cause of our salvation. I would imagine that if we had the time that nearly every one here could give a testimony of something happening to them that they would not wish on their worst enemy and yet God was able to work it to the good. People who are able to see His power work in this circumstance are people of faith and often are used as wounded healers. People who cannot see God’s power at work, even among things that go badly, become crippled by bitterness and unforgiveness. So we need to understand His power.

Fr. Chris reminded us last week that we do not fulfill our spiritual vision by wandering aimlessly towards it. As the saying goes, “if you have nothing to aim at you will hit it every time.” But God has not called us to hit nothing. As St. Paul’s prayer demonstrates, God has great intentionality for us. He calls us to a sure vision. He calls us to be enlightened to see that vision. He calls us to see ourselves through His eyes and as a result we will do whatever it takes to see the vision fulfilled.

Let us pray. “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.” Amen.

 

 

From Vision to Fulfillment

Way of the Cross

Listen again to the words of Isaiah. “On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well aged wine….And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples….. He will swallow up death forever and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces and the reproach of his people He will take away from all the earth…let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”

The prophet Isaiah has a vision before him that is strikingly similar to the vision that St. John paints in the Book of the Revelation. It is no wonder that St. Gregory of Nyssa said that Isaiah “knew more perfectly than all others the mystery of the religion of the Gospels” and St. Jerome said that he was more of an Evangelist than a Prophet.

What Isaiah is seeing is what St. John calls the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. This is the consummation of the ages when the bride of Christ, the Church, is fully united to Christ as her husband. And just as Isaiah did, St. John prophecies that God will wipe away every tear and there will be no more death or mourning or pain because the former things have passed away. That is the Great Day to which both Testaments point. That is our future. A time, as Bishop NT Wright says, that God will put everything to rights.

And while the vision of that day is something that we should keep ever before us, it is equally important to understand that there is a path that takes us from this vision to its fulfillment and that path takes us by way of the cross. The collect for Friday’s Morning Prayer puts it this way; “Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first He suffered pain, and entered not into glory before He was crucified: Mercifully grant the we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace…” Thus after Isaiah gives us the vision of the Great Day of feasting, he introduces us to the Suffering Servant.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

While at first it may not sound like very good news that the path from vision to fulfillment involves the cross, it should not surprise us. Life in general seems to work that way. If you have a dream that is worth fulfilling it goes without saying that it will involve sacrifice. If you have a dream of starting your own business then you had better understand ahead of time that you will be putting in 60-80 hours every week for the first few years.

Years ago Larry Bird became a basketball sensation when he played for the Boston Celtics. But that didn’t happen over night. While still in high school he would be at the school gym every day by 6 in the morning making 500 free throws. Even as a pro he arrived on the court hours before anyone else did to practice his shots, he said until he was comfortable. That is how he made it look so easy.

Our Choirmaster Kirk is a phenomenal musician. I wrote him an email asking what kind of sacrifices he has made to be at his level. This is what he wrote back. “In the early years of my music career, I constantly worked hard on honing my songwriting, piano and vocal skills. This is still an ongoing, never-ending process, as there is always room for improvement. I have spent countless hours listening to other professional pianists and songwriters, studying the mechanics/rules of songwriting and have done much re-writing of my songs….”  And we benefit from his sacrifice.

 

The opposite is also true. Folks who are unwilling to sacrifice do not see their dreams fulfilled. There is a man whom I have known all his life and while he should be at a stage now where is mature and prospering he still doesn’t know, as it says in the book of Jonah, his right hand from his left. He is clueless and foundering in life because he has spent his days either looking for a quick fix or waiting for things to be handed to him. His unwillingness to sacrifice has resulted in him being stuck and unproductive.

So again it should not surprise us that sacrifice is required in our spiritual lives as well; that from vision to fulfillment is the way of the cross. What does that look like?

I believe it is different for each of us because we are uniquely made and uniquely called. For Isaiah and St. Paul the sacrifice was literal. The Talmud says that Isaiah was sawn in two under King Manasseh and as you know St. Paul was martyred in Rome. But as the collects put it, the way of the cross can also be for us the way of life and peace, so it doesn’t have to be just about dying.

One common experience of sacrifice that we are called to make is when we intentionally exchange our wills for God’s will. Jesus showed us that way when He prayed so in the Garden. “Nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.”

I knew a priest in the Diocese of East Tennessee that was a successful heart surgeon when the Lord called him into priesthood. As you can imagine that resulted in a slight dip in his income. In addition the Lord placed him in more than one conflicted parish so he went from being treated like a god in the hospital to being bitten by his own sheep. I have no doubt that there were plenty of times that he wished he were back in the operating theatre. The stress of ministry even resulted in him having a heart attack. But not only did he survive it he went on to be a very joyful person who was grateful for it all, the peaks as well as the valleys. His joy came from exchanging his will for God’s will.

Another common way that we experience a cross is when we are willing to sacrifice our reputations for His sake. If you have never seen the movie Chariots of Fire, put it on the top of your list. It is the story of a Scot named Eric Liddle who had a calling to be a missionary but before doing so he represented Great Britain in the 1924 Olympics in Paris (France not Tennessee). He was a faithful Christian whose tradition did not allow him to play sports on the Lord’s Day and so when he found out that his heat was on a Sunday he declined to run. Not even the Royalty could guilt him into running . He stood his ground and accepted the outrage. It ended up that he got a different race on a different day and he went on to win a medal.

The movie doesn’t tell you this but lest you think he was just being a legalistic Pharisee, there is more to the story. He became a missionary to China and was captured by the Japanese during World War II and placed in a concentration camp. At the camp he refereed a children’s field hockey match on the Lord’s Day because that was the most loving and helpful way to serve the children. He died of an inoperable brain tumor while still in the camp. One of his companions said of him, He was overflowing with good humour and love for life, and with enthusiasm and charm. It is rare indeed that a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.” Eric found the way of the cross to be life and peace.

I don’t think that the Lord plays games with us. You will know what your particular cross is when He shows it to you and it will be up to you to take it up or not. But keep in mind. To go from vision to fulfillment requires sacrifice.

But there is an added and surprising benefit to sacrifice and that is that it leads to godliness. I learned this from Dave Ramsey while going through Financial Peace University. Dave has an expression, “Live now like no one else so that later you can live and give like no one else.” What he means by this is that we are to sacrifice now so that later we can live well and be ridiculously generous.

Done correctly sacrifice leads to generosity and for us as Christians this is a very important quality to develop because it is a hallmark of God. I recently read a Tim Keller Book called The Prodigal God and he used this term to describe God because one definition of “prodigal” is to be “recklessly extravagant.” Keller’s point is that in sending His Son to die for us God seems to fall in that category…and aren’t we grateful for such extravagance. So sacrifice leads to generosity and generosity to godliness.

This brings me to my last point about walking the way of the cross that takes us from vision to fulfillment. Walking the way of the cross is how we obey the Scriptural command to put on Christ. St. Paul says in Romans “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provisions for the flesh.”

And the reason that is so important is because putting on Christ is how we are properly dressed for the wedding feast of the Lamb. And why is that important? “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’…then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness.’”

The way of the cross that results in our putting on Christ is a middle way that avoids two ditches. One ditch is self-righteousness. The Bible is clear. “There is none righteous no not one.” So if we think that our good works will get us into the wedding feast then we are sorely mistaken.

But the other ditch, the other mistaken notion, is that there is no need to put on Christ because 30 years ago I was baptized or said the sinners prayer and therefore I have my ticket punched. It not a punched ticket that gets you into the wedding feast, it is the proper garment and the proper garment is to be clothed in Christ. We clothe ourselves in Him when we walk the way of the cross.

Isaiah and St. John give us a vision of our future that should inspire our daily lives. The vision is so glorious that it makes the way of the cross the way of life and peace. This vision keeps us from being too entangled in this world and helps us establish proper priorities for our lives. The Eucharist that we celebrate each week is a foreshadowing of and a participation in that wedding feast. It is God’s promise to us, as Julian of Norwich put it, “all shall be well, all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.”

 

 

 

Prayers for Los Vegas

Vegas

Prayers from the Book of Common Prayer (1979)                                                                 for the Victims and Families of the Los Vegas Shootings

 Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend thy servants, as into the hands of a faithful Creator and most merciful Savior, beseeching thee that they may be precious in thy sight.

Wash them, we pray thee, in the blood of that
immaculate Lamb that was slain to take away the sins of the
world; that, whatsoever defilements they may have contracted
in the midst of this earthly life being purged and done away,
they may be presented pure and without spot before thee;
through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord.
Amen.

Grant to all who mourn a sure confidence in thy fatherly
care, that, casting all their grief on thee, they may know the
consolation of thy love. Amen.

Give courage and faith to those who are bereaved, that they
may have strength to meet the days ahead in the comfort of a
reasonable and holy hope, in the joyful expectation of eternal
life with those they love. Amen.

Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand,
to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness
of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting. Amen.

O God, whose days are without end, and whose mercies
cannot be numbered: Make us, we beseech thee, deeply
sensible of the shortness and uncertainty of life; and let thy
Holy Spirit lead us in holiness and righteousness all our days;
that, when we shall have served thee in our generation, we
may be gathered unto our fathers, having the testimony of a
good conscience; in the communion of the Catholic Church;
in the confidence of a certain faith; in the comfort of a
reasonable, religious, and holy hope; in favor with thee our.                                               God; and in perfect charity with the world. All which we ask
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn
but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the
strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that
all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of
Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and
glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, the truth;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.