Saint John’s Church League Men’s Basketball team will close out the season this Thursday, March 24 beginning at 8:00 p.m. The game will be played at Westminster Presbyterian Church gym and is sure to be exciting. Thanks to all the guys on the team and to our Coach, Richard Follis–you all have made this season one for the record books. Please come out and support our men as they play the final game of their season.
Today, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, let us consider repentance. Repentance is a major theme throughout the entirety of the record of Scripture.
From the fall of Adam and Eve and the expulsion out of the Garden of Eden…From Noah and the Arc and the flooding of the world…from the call of Abraham and his mission to bring the people of the world to God…From the ministries of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Isaiah- all called to preach to the Israelites- repent and return to God Almighty. And on to John the Baptist…to the voice crying out in the wilderness “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”
This morning we read of the arrest of John the Baptist by King Herod. It is of no little note, that “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”[i]
Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ continues the mission and ministry of God Almighty…continues that which had been preached since the Cherubim took their station on the Gate of the Garden of Eden…Fiery swords in hand. Jesus calls the world to repentance through words and actions…in every word preached…in every healing touch…in every meal shared…in His passion, death, Resurrection and Ascension…Jesus calls the world to repent.
Repentance means many different things to many different people. To some of us the word repent is used as a club to beat and injure…to others, the word is antiquated not of use in the modern world. And to others still, the word repent is foreign and removed from any sort of genuine or beneficial meaning. And to others still, it is a foul and dirty word.
The mission and ministry of God has not changed since the Fall of Adam…God, through divers and sundry agents, has continually called the world to repentance. In our own time and in our own day, the mission and ministry of repentance is carried out by the Church…the people of God, living in the Spirit of God…to us who are called to holiness and righteousness.
So, since this is the mission and ministry to which we are called, let us spend some time contemplating it.
The word repentance itself, as used by Saint John the Baptist and by Our Lord, is the word me-tä-no-e’-ō. It means literally ‘to change ones mind.’ Or, ‘to change one’s mind for the better.’ In most usages, repentance ‘involves a turning with contrition from sin to God’[ii] That is to say, repentance is the process of turning from ways and things that destroy the soul and body, and to God, whose is love and goodness. So the mission of the Church is to turn the world away from things that destroy and hurt a person to God, who is Love and mercy and health and wholeness.
In just a few moments we will baptize Tristan Lilly Fontaine in Christ’s One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church. Tristan will be cleansed of original or ancestral sin. She will go down into the waters and die with Christ and then arise to a new and eternal life. Tristan will be given the Holy Spirit who will live within her and give to her the things of God…eternal life…love…mercy…and peace and joy. In preparing to baptize Tristan, the church will do what it has done since the beginning of time. Tristan will go through an exorcism and examination…she will formally go through the process of repentance and amendment of life in the Liturgy of Baptism. She will formally and publically go through the process of changing one’s mind for the better.
Now since little Tristan is an infant…the parents and Godparents and the gathered church will take on much of this responsibility for her…since she is an infant, she will be offered to God and we will vow to God and to her that we see she lives fully into this repentance. To help us keep our vows…and as a refresher in this foundational ministry…let us look at the Liturgy.
If you wish, you can look in your bulletins to the point immediately following the sermon, or you may open the Book of Common Prayer and turn to page 302. The first part of the Liturgy is traditional called the Exorcism. That is not to say that little Tristan is possessed of Satan or demons…but that she is subject to the powers of death and to Satan- the prince of darkness and death.
Looking at the Exorcism itself- the priest asks:
“ Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?…Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?… Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?…”[iii]
It is of note that these things are identified, named and publically and formally renounced. And in that, these things are cast out, cast off and cease to have control over. Since the beginning of the Liturgy of Baptism, these questions…these renunciations were made facing Westward, or away from the altar and the direction our Lord is supposed to return…the questions were asked facing the world and the realm in which evil resides.
After these renunciation of Satan…the forces of evil and temptations to evil, the candidates would turn from West to East…would turn away from those things and towards Jesus Christ.
After they turn and the priest moves to the Baptismal font, the examination continues:
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?… Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?… Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?”[iv]
Turning towards the coming Lord, the altar and the rising Son, the candidates then publically and solemnly accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour… publically and solemnly proclaim their trust is in His grace and love and in no other. The answer to these questions conclude the exorcism. While, admittedly this lacks the wow factor of television and movies…there is no head spinning, levitating, or green slime covering the walls…this part of the liturgy is one of the most powerful and meaningful things the Church does.
This accepting Jesus should call to mind the Philippian Jailer, the Apostles Paul and Luke and one of the earliest truths and creeds of the Christian Church. The Jailer having just witnessed the power of God and understanding the failings of his philosophy…facing a certain death asks this question: “Men, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”[v]
This point in the Baptismal Liturgy also calls to mind the Holy Name itself: Jesus…’God saves’.
We turn away from death and towards Life…away from death, both spiritually and physically, and towards life and mercy and love. It is a powerful and moving moment indeed that no special effect could ever trump.
After the examination…after the person has renounced Satan and called on the name of Jesus…the person is connected to…joined to the Church intimately and eternally.
“Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support these persons in their life in Christ?”[vi]
The Church shows itself to be one Body, with Jesus Christ as Head…united in Salvation and love and mercy and joy.
And that is repentance. Turning from death and evil…turning towards the Lord…turning towards the Goodness and mercy and love of God….turning from death to life. Repentance is turning is turning from an individual life where one is concerned only with self…to a life in Christ…to a life lived in community…to a life lived as a part of the Body of Christ. This, beloved in the Lord, is our mission…this is our calling…this is our purpose in life. We are called to proclaim that which has been proclaimed since the beginning. Repent and turn towards to Lord. Repent of evil and death and turn towards life and love and goodness.
This morning, (as we reaffirm the covenant made at our own baptisms), let us give thanks for our Salvation…let us give thanks that we have turned from death unto life…that us give thanks that we are able to repent. And let us commit ourselves to holding one another up…let us commit ourselves to the mission of the Church…let us commit ourselves to showing the world the life, love and salvation of Jesus Christ…let us commit ourselves to showing the world the blessings and mercy that are to be found in repentance.
[i] The Gospel of Saint Matthew 4.17 RSV
[iii] The Book of Common Prayer p. 302
[iv] The Book of Common Prayer p.302-303
[v] The Acts of the Apostles 16.30-31 RSV
[vi] The Book of Common Prayer p.303
Candlemas & The Blessing of Throats
Wednesday, February 2nd at 6:00pm
Join us for Candlemas and the Blessing of the Throats on Wednesday February 2nd at 6:00pm. At this service we will celebtate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in Temple. We will bless all of the candles to be used in the Church for the coming year in a beautiful service of light. During the service, following the ancient traditions of the Church, we will also offer the Blessing of the Throats in honor of Saint Blaise. This is a healing rite in which the priest offers prayers for health for the individual persons. This was a loved and much talked about service last year, so save the date and come on out to Saint John’s to celebrate Mary & Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple. A nursery will be provided and a reception will follow.
We come together this morning on the Second Sunday in Advent…and as we do each and every year on the second Sunday in Advent…we are greeted by Saint John the Baptist.
And, each and every year on this Second Sunday in Advent, Saint John the Baptist has the same message for us:
In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”[i]
Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven has come near.
For those newer to the ancient traditions of the Church, Advent may seem a little harsh and out of place…for it is the holiday season and the past two Sunday’s we have been exposed to some prayers and readings that are not all festive in the sense we might hope them to be.
Last Sunday, we had a warning from Jesus to stay awake, that He would return at an unexpected hour…it was a message proclaiming the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ.
And this week, Saint John the Baptist is in the wilderness crying out ‘Repent!!!’
The Baptist is calling out the hypocrite and those who are secure in their faith…He is calling those who will hear to action…to bear fruit worthy of repentance.
This close to Christmas…this is perhaps not what one might expect walking into this place for the first time.
So, this morning beloved in Jesus Christ, let us consider a thing that is essential for our Salvation: Repentance.
What comes to mind when you hear the word repent? What emotions surface when someone tells you to repent?
I am willing to bet…and especially if you were raised in the God fearing South…that you feel one of two ways: either humiliated or angry.
This idea of being told to repent is usually associated with some sort of moral code or law. So…if you are told to repent, it usually means that you have been behaving badly and need to stop doing bad things…or that you are a bad person and need to change who you are.
So, being told to repent implies a judgment…and who wants to be judged by others…
I would like to propose a slightly different take on what true repentance is…of the stuff true repentance is made.
I propose the thesis that repentance is not a legal term, but a change in the attitude of the soul.
I propose that repentance is opening your heart to joy…that repentance is allowing yourself to have the hardness of your heart broken…to become joy-filled and happy.
When Saint John the Baptist cries out “Repent, the Kingdom of God has come near!” what is it he is actually wanting us to do?
Is it to quit being bad…or is it to open our hearts and our souls up to allow love to fill us…
I think one of the most dangerous aspects of our fallen humanity is that we close ourselves off and harden our hearts to Divine love.
That is to say, we have this distorted tendency to self-reliance and to safety and security.
We might love others, but we guard our hearts and our souls so that we do not get hurt. We do not trust others as we were meant to, because of the fear of being let down or being hurt.
So, our relationships with others are dictated by this guardedness. We only allow so much access to our hearts and souls…we keep others at a safe distance so we do not get hurt…or so that others can see the real and true us…the us we know to be ugly and broken.
This guarding of our hearts and souls is unfortunately also and especially extended to God. We do not let God into our hearts and souls fully and completely. We do not trust God with the more vulnerable places in our souls…we meet God on our terms and not His.
We keep Love itself out and rely on ourselves to meet our needs. We keep God at a safe distance thinking it too dangerous to give up control.
Consider the Pharisee and Sad’ducee in this Gospel this morning. We are trained from birth to think of them to be awful, hateful and vile people. To call someone a Pharisee or Sad’ducee is an insult.
But, my brothers and sisters, we are them. They were very devoted to the practice of religion…they were at the center of Judaism…they were the keepers of the faith…we have to believe they were good people who were making some sort of effort…they are the same sort of people who would be in Church today.
By all rights they should have been the ones to receive Jesus…but yet they were not…they are the ones whose titles became insults…why is that?
These devote people became insults because they refused…they could not repent…they could not allow their hearts to be broken and the joy and the love of God to fill their souls. They could not trust in God’s love. They remained self-serving and self-reliant.
John the Baptist warns them to bear fruit worthy of repentance. To understand repentance, we must understand this command…for it is central to the Gospel message.
To bear fruit worthy of repentance is to take action. To bear fruit worthy of repentance is not an intellectual idea…it is not something that we think about…it is something we do.
For fruit is the product of the tree…it was what the plant produces.
So, it is obvious that the lives of these religious folks were not producing worthy fruit…fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God…fruit worthy of the love of God.
These Pharisee and Sadducees might have kept their religious duties…they were unstained by the world…but they bore no fruit. The love of God did not fill their hearts…they did not trust in God…they trusted only in themselves.
To bear fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God is to love others…is to love God and allow God to love you completely and thoroughly…it is to allow God to fill you with joy and peace.
This act of repentance…this producing fruit worthy of the Kingdom of God is done by loving others. That is to say: caring for the poor and the orphan and the widow…loving your neighbor…being kind and welcoming to the stranger…reaching out to others to make their lives better and easier…
Repentance is taking the risk…is expending the energy to love and care for the stranger and the friend. And in these actions we are transformed…we can see more easily the love and mercy and peace of God.
When we take risks and live outside ourselves and our own concerns we see God more clearly…we learn to trust in God more completely…we love God more truly…and we allow God to love us more and more…and in these things we repent and we gain a joy and a happiness that cannot be known outside of God.
So, as we hear the cry of Saint John the Baptist this morning…Repent! For the Kingdom of God has come near!…let us examine our souls.
Do we trust in God or in ourselves? Do we take risks to love others? Do we care for the poor and the unloved?
Are our hearts hardened…Are we self-reliant…or, do we depend on God for every need? Are we filled with bitterness…or does God’s love and peace and happiness fill us?
My brothers and sisters…the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God draws near…we must bear fruit worthy of repentance or risk losing our souls.
We must learn to love God and to love others…We can only do this by bearing fruit worthy of the love of God…we must allow God’s love and mercy to break our hard hearts and fill our souls…we must repent and allow the joy of God to fill us completely.
So, this day, let us commit ourselves to the process of repentance…let us heed the word of John the Baptist…let us commit ourselves to allowing the joy and love of God to fill our hearts…let us repent as the Kingdom of God comes near and come to know a peace and happiness that the world can never give.
[i] Saint Matthew 3.1 RSV
Today, my brothers and sisters, let us consider Advent…the period of time leading up to the Feast of the Nativity and encompassing four Sundays…
The first season in the Church’s year…the time of the Jesse Tree and the Advent Wreath…the season that is all but lost and forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the holiday season.
But before we can contemplate the season of Advent, we must understand one thing about Christmas…one thing about the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ…the Christmas event…has everything to do with our Salvation.
That is to say that Christmas is just as important…equal to Easter and the Resurrection in matters of the Salvation of mankind.
The Church has affirmed this since the beginning and we say so in the Nicene Creed each and every Sunday:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man:[i]
And for our Salvation…was made man. Christmas has everything to do with our Salvation because God became man in Jesus Christ. Christ took our human flesh and made it His own…
Christ became man and in taking our flesh and blood as His own…redeemed humanity. Christ rejoined God and man.
God came to earth and in His becoming man…redeemed man…made it possible for man to reconcile with God and have salvation.
So Advent is an event that helps us prepare for salvation….Advent is a season that helps us prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ…both in His Nativity and when He comes again to judge the living and the dead.
The collect for the day tells us much about the season of Advent…what it is about and what is asked of us.
Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal… through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.[ii]
In the collect, we ask God to give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. That is to say, we ask God for grace, during this season, to rid our souls of sins and distortions…of ways and actions that are not of God…
We ask God to give us grace and the armor of light…of righteousness…so that on the Last Day, we may receive a favorable judgment and rise to the life immortal.
The season of Advent is very much akin to the New Year’s Resolution. We start the Church’s year trying to become better people…throw off bad habits…start spiritual exercises…regain what had been lost and discarded in the previous year.
During Lent…the forty-day season that leads up to Easter…there are a goodly amount of rules and devotions. There is fasting and abstinence…many of the faithful will give something up…there is an increase in prayers and devotions…and many parishes have the equivalent of revivals during this time.
Advent has many of these same devotions and undertakings. Even though it is a penitential season…a season of fasting and abstinence…with many of the same rules and devotions…it has a different feel to it than Lent.
During Lent, the faithful seek to separate themselves from the world…to follow the advice of the Blessed Apostle Paul:
for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.[iii]
There is also during Lent the aim to unite ourselves to the suffering of Christ…and in that uniting, to come closer…to join ourselves more completely with Jesus.
The purpose of Advent is a different. The purpose of Advent is to prepare ourselves for the second coming of Jesus Christ…to prepare ourselves and make room for God in our life and in our death.
So, Advent is about waiting…is about watching…is about preparing our hearts, souls and our homes for the coming of Christ.
In that way the season of Advent parallels the preparations of our homes for Christmas and the guests we will receive.
Many of us will begin very soon, if we have not already, to prepare our homes for Christmas. There will be a tremendous amount of cleaning…of straightening up…there will be much decorating…many of us will spend untold hours adorning our homes and making them splendid and lovely.
Many of us will spend great amounts of time making our homes fitting and welcoming and beautiful for Christmas.
We will cook special meals and treats…we will go out of our way to prepare special foods to show our family and friends our heartfelt love and gratitude.
We will spend much time finding and buying gifts for those we love…we will try our best to express our love and gratitude to those who mean much to us.
Most of us will spend untold hours transforming our homes into magical places…full of wonderful treats…whimsically adorned…full of presents and gifts…
But Advent forces us to ask the question…but what of our souls? But what of our families? But what of our wonderful homes? Are they prepared for the coming of Christ and judgment?
Just as we do all this decorating and cooking and gift buying…just as we spend these untold hours on preparing…we should first and foremost spend our time preparing our hearts and souls…our families and our homes for the coming of Christ.
Having our homes arrayed with the finest things will not help us one bit when Christ returns if our hearts and our souls are not arrayed with the things of God.
The world during this time of year is filled with busyness and temptations. It is all too easy to forget about the things of God and the things that help us in our quest for Salvation.
So, as we busy ourselves with decorating and cooking and gift buying and holiday parties…let us not forget what Christmas is about…the coming of Jesus Christ and the salvation of our souls.
So before we deck the halls…before we begin our feasts…before we buy things for the ones we love…let us prepare our souls for the coming of the Christ in His Nativity and in His coming again to judge the world.
Let us fast and unite ourselves to Jesus Christ…let us commit ourselves to prayer and devotion…let us rid our hearts and minds of the things that are not of God…
Let us take on the armor of the light of God and make our souls and our homes fitting abodes for the light and love of God in Jesus Christ.
Let us commit ourselves to good works…to caring for the poor and the needy…let us pray without ceasing and love without holding back…
Let us use this Advent to prepare for the coming of Christ so that on Christmas day the season will have not ended, but just begun…and we, instead of being burned out, will be on fire with the light and love of God and ready to receive Christ when He comes in glory.
[i] The Book of Common Prayer, p.328
[ii] Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, from The Book of Common Prayer, p.211
[iii] Romans 8.13
This morning, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, let us consider the Feast of Christ the King…what we celebrate today.
Today is the last feast of the Church’s year. Next Sunday, we begin Advent…a brand new year for the Church…a season of penance and waiting…a season of preparing ourselves for the Second coming of Christ.
The Feast of Christ the King is arguably the newest or most recent feast in the life of the Western Church and has what some might consider unusual beginnings.
Pope Pius XI universally instituted The Feast of Christ the King in 1925 in his encyclical Quas Primas[i]…it was immediately adopted by the Anglican Church and to this day we celebrate it along side our Catholic brothers and sisters.
Pope Pius XI saw in the world during his reign what he considered to be a rampant and rising denial of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Pope Pius attributed much of this rising and rampant denial of Jesus Christ to what is called secularism.
That is to say, during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s there was a massive push in governments and universities to separate religion from the public realm- to separate the nation state from Christianity.
This idea of secularism was also a push to totally and completely remove religion or the Christian ideal from all politics…or that all political activities and decisions should be made or based on secular or political evidence, totally removed from the influence of religious belief.
And the political and educational landscape of the day was rather violent in this regard. In Europe dictatorships were rising that saw the ousting of Christianity all together…making the practice of religion illegal, rendering the influence of the Church ineffective and even non-existent.
In the universities, the negative effects of Darwinism were taking hold and swirling around in the classrooms and in the war rooms. The notions of the will to power and the survival of the fittest were replacing notions of love for fellow man and any ideas of mercy or humanity.
Within twenty years of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, the world would see some of the most horrendous atrocities it had ever known…places like Dachau, Auschwitz…and names of agencies like the Gulag that literally unleashed Hell on the world.
The 1900’s would see more murders and deaths from war than the entirety of the rest of combined history. The 1900’s would see more inhumanity and atrocity that at any other time in recorded history.
Secularism was rising, and Christians of all swipes, both Catholic and Protestant, were doubting the authority of Jesus Christ, doubting the authority of the Church, doubting Christ’s life and his very existence.
This notion of secularism has gotten worse from that day to this…and given rise to something much worse and even more damaging…that of individualism.
Individualism considers the highest form of authority as the individual self. The very idea of Christ or His church as having any authority is firmly rejected as being oppressive both physically and intellectually…Christ, it is thought, must submit to the individual self…
It was the hope of Pope Pius XI that the nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state.
Pius hoped leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ.
Pius hoped the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies.[ii]
I find the feast just as needed today, if not more so, and think today has much to offer and challenge us with. For with less than half of the population even bothering to go to Church… And with more than 1,500 denominations, where one can find whatever belief one wants, we as a country have become seriously infected with individualism.
If we begin to contemplate this idea of Kingship or Lordship, we must first understand those terms…for I am willing to guess that none of us here have ever lived under the reign of a national King or Lord.
A King or Lord would be a person to whom we pledge allegiance and undying loyalty…a person for whom we would die…a person to whom we are subject…and in a very literal sense, a person who owns us.
I think we are plenty use to seeing secular examples of dictatorships and kingdoms. Some of the worse that come to mind would be Stalin…Hitler…Idi Amin…Marxism in South America in the 70’s…la Junta…the list of horrendous reigns goes on and on.
So, with the end of one Church year and the beginning of another, I think it is a good idea to ponder what Christ’s Kingdom is all about…to ponder what kind of King it is we claim as Lord and Savior.
And the people stood by, watching; but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him vinegar, and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.”[iii]
This scene is a brutal one. Our Lord hanging on the cross, scourged and bleeding, naked but for the crown of thorns ripping the flesh on his brow.
And the people stand by watching. Watching someone they may have thought was a King…may have thought had a power and authority…they may have been waiting to see if He would come down or the masses would come to His rescue.
The rulers scoffed at Him. His claim of king utterly ridiculous. There he hung…humiliated…defeated…no king at all. What kind of rule is to be had hanging from a cross?
The soldiers mocked Him. They taunted Him to exert force…to put up a fight…any kind of fight…to be a man…to be the ruler He claimed to be.
The onlookers perhaps wished for a military coup…The rulers were looking for any sort of show of authority or presence…any sign at all of leadership and control…and the soldiers wanted to see Him put up a fight…to push against the goads…to prove He was truly a king.
Our Lord Jesus Christ’s reign defies the human logic of Supremacy. The reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ defies any sort of power or presence according to the logic of the world.
The logic of the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ is born in a manger in humility…the logic of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the logic that casts out demons…that dines with the outcast and the sinner…
The logic of the reign of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the logic that bows down to wash the feet of others…that serves the poor and the needy…it is the logic of the cross on which He gives His life for the life of the world.
The great and terrible irony in today’s Gospel is that the people wanted a great leader…a king. The rulers wanted to see someone rule…and the soldiers wanted to see a great showing of power…and hanging from the cross was all of those things.
Hanging on the cross that day was Love itself…the base and foundation for a true and lasting rule…for the King of Kings and the greatest power in the universe was in their midst…the power that overcomes death itself.
Hanging on the cross that day was the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and they could not see Him for their blindness and hatred.
So, on this day, the question is raised…whom do we serve? Ourselves? Human logic and reason? Or do we serve Love….
Do we submit ourselves to Jesus Christ and His Church…or do we submit to no one?
On this Feast of Christ the King, let us submit ourselves anew to Jesus Christ…to His Holy Church…and let us show to the world what the Kingdom of God is about….
Let us act in humility and love…let us wash the feet of others…let us serve the poor and needy…let us submit ourselves to Christ the King and employ the logic that sees the cross as the outpouring of love that is the foundation of the world and not as something to be mocked and scoffed.
[i] Borrowed freely from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xi/encyclicals/documents/hf_p-xi_enc_11121925_quas-primas_en.html accessed 10/20/2010
[iii] Saint Luke 23.35-38 RSV
“Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. (Luke 6.22-23 RSV)
Today, my brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints. It is the Sunday upon which we celebrate all those Christians who have attained the Beatific vision in Heaven.
That is to say, today we celebrate all those who, having finished their course in this world now see God directly…face to face, instead of indirectly, through the sacraments, or prayer, or grace.
Today, we celebrate those Christians whom the Church is certain have attained this blessed vision. These are the people whom we put title of affection Saint in the front of….people like Saint John, the patron of this parish.
Folks like Saint Mary Magdalene- who converted emperors, Saint Thomas- who placed his hand in the side of our Lord…folks like Saint Mary the Virgin, the mother of Our Lord.
We give them the title of honor…Saint…because of their great faith on earth…because of their closeness to God…because we can see clearly and without question in the works of their life, the person of Jesus Christ.
These Saints stand above and beyond most of us. They attained a state of holiness in this world that commends them as examples to be followed and persons to whom we should ask to pray for us.
If you will notice and pay particular attention to our Liturgy and our prayers we spend a good deal of time praying for the souls of the faithfully departed…praying that they may have a good judgment…that they may have rest eternal…that they may be saved and found worthy to stand at the Last Day.
But we do not do so for those persons who have attained this beatific vision, these Saints…instead we ask them to pray to God for us…because we know of their holiness and their closeness and union with Jesus Christ.
This idea of praying for the dead and asking the prayers of the Saints is one that forces us to think about our world…and the reality of God’s Kingdom.
For when we remember and pray for the ones we love who have died…or when we ask the saints to pray for us, we enter into a spiritual reality that defies human reason.
Meaning, in a secular worldview, a worldview that is founded on reason, it is ridiculous to pray for our loved ones who have departed this life…for they are dead and totally removed from our lives and are only left in our memories…and it is the same with the saints…they are gone and live on only in history.
Some Christians take a view very similar to this…when a person dies, they are either immediately in Heaven or Hell and in a real sense, separated from us…and it then becomes idolatry to pray for them…or to converse in our prayers with them. It is not a reasonable thing to do.
But within the ancient tradition of the Church…a tradition we keep alive to this day…we acknowledge and celebrate the true reality in which our loved ones…the saints…are still with us and we with them in realms spiritual through the body of Christ and the reality of the Church, both in this world and in the next…
We are together as we await the return of Jesus Christ to judge the living and the dead and to make all things new…to complete and make final the kingdom of God.
And so today we celebrate the Church…that society that breaks the bounds of our physical reality…that exists in this world and in the world to come…that joins us to God through Jesus Christ.
So today, as I said earlier, we celebrate the saints…the saints who have attained the beatific vision of God…who have attained true and lasting happiness.
It is fitting then, that we read that portion Jesus’ sermon called the Beatitudes. In Luke’s version of this sermon, there are four blessings…and four woes.
So, to attain this beatific vision, we are to work towards living fully into the blessings and fully avoiding living into the woes.
It is in this sermon of Jesus that we see what we must work toward to attain true happiness and this vision of God.
And it is very striking and very different from what the world claims as happiness. I was doing a bit of prayerful contemplation the other day on this Beatitudes and wondering what it would look like to come up with a list of worldly beatitudes from advertizments and television programs.
So here is my list:
1. Blessed are those who hoard money and spend it on selfish things…for money buys happiness and the heart’s desire.
2. Blessed are the beautiful and provocatively dressed. For physical looks and sexual appeal are the highest form of being.
3. Blessed are those who can separate themselves from the impoverished parts of the world…for they will not have to deal with anything that makes them uncomfortable.
4. Blessed are those who can avoid pain and suffering…for happiness is not having to deal with sickness or sadness or suffering.
Again, that is from advertisements…I commend this to you and ask you to look around the world and see for yourself…anyway, compare my list to Jesus’ list:
And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. “Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. “Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. “Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, on account of the Son of man! (Luke 6.20-22)
Jesus’ idea of happiness comes from a life lived completely for God and completely for the greater good of others…and it is in direct contridiction to my list.
If you give your life completely to God…if you forgo selfishness and really and truly love and care for others…really and truly are obedient to God…you will attain eternal happiness…
But we are told and shown that the eternal happiness of the beatific vision looks a little different to the world…that in the world, if you live into this vision, you will suffer by the standards of the world…but you will know peace…and you will see God.
This morning, in just a moment, we will baptize Ann Claire Brewer into Christ’s One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. She will be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection…she will be made a new creation in Jesus Christ.
This morning Claire will join the eternal society of Jesus Christ. The society that includes the living and the dead…the society that has among its members the great saints of God.
This morning, Claire will be giving a new calling…this Beatific vision…this vision for a happy and blessed life…this vision that will one day, God willing, allow her to see God face to Face…will allow her and us all to live within the society…the kingdom of God for ever and ever.
So, during this Hallow’s tide, let us pray for and remember the faithful who have died…let us ask the prayers of the Saints…and let us above all rejoice in the Goodness and mercy of God found in his Church…in His saints…and in us, His faithful.
Several weeks ago we noticed a small rotten area in the wooden joint that supports the overhang outside of the parish office building. When we probed the rotten area it was discovered that both wooden support joints we almost completely rotted out and the overhang was ‘hanging’ on by a small thread of solid wood. We never would have imagined the repair would be so complicated, but the original woodwork was entirely hand done and of no ordinary size. So to stabilize the overhang and repair the wooden joints we had to use hand hewn timbers special cut for our project…and because of the difficulties with shrinking/expanding and the weight the joint must bear, mahogany had to be used.
The repair is now complete and looks as good as ever…just another day in the life of keeping up the House of God!
This morning Saint John’s begins what we Episcopalians call ‘Stewardship Season.’ It is the time of year when we begin thinking about and planning the vision and budgets for the coming year…and seeing if we can expand our offerings and ministries…or if we must make cuts in our operations and ministries.
Many are the times this idea of a ‘stewardship season’ causes confusion and a lack of understanding in what it is all about.
If you grew up in an evangelical type church, you were probably trained and educated in the act of tithing. Or that your obligation and duty to God was to give the first 10% of your income to God.
In fact, not many months ago one of my fellow clergymen here in Jones county famously preached a sermon with a very blunt and now much talked about point…
He angrily told his congregation that if they did not give the first ten percent of their income to the church that they were ‘Stealing from God’ and would face His all consuming wrath.
And if you grew up in a more Catholic tradition you might not have ever given much thought to tithing or how you spend your time and your money…for it is not usually on the top of the list of sermon topics.
And still other times, this idea of stewardship is linked to secular groups and functions…we might equate church stewardship with NPR’s drive time…or the yearly assessment of the country club…or with requests for support from conservation or special interest groups.
The puts us in the mindset of supporting something because we like it, or use the service or group…and the Church becomes just one more among many groups asking for our money.
As a priest and dedicated Christian, I find this heartbreaking. This notion of Stewardship is lifegiving…it is more than fearfully fulfilling an obligation and duty to avoid the wrath of God.
Stewardship is much more than deciding which charities and special interests we will support in the coming year.
Stewardship, at its heart, is the prayerful contemplation of our faith in action…of our faith in works…it is how we live our lives.
Stewardship itself comes from a realization that God Almighty through Jesus Christ has given us everything we have, even our very lives…and responding to God in thanksgiving through the actions of our lives.
In the Old Testament the idea of Stewardship was multifaceted and encompassed every area of life.
Stewardship is founded in the idea that God created everything…the entire cosmos.
In the very beginning of the Biblical record we see this notion of Stewardship rise up…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” (Gen 1.26)
Have dominion over…to rule…to care for…from the very beginning humankind was given a very special responsibility. Out of thanksgiving for our very lives and out of thanksgiving for God’s love and creation…we became stewards of the earth.
That is to say, as a response to the love of God who created us…we were to rule and care for creation itself.
So, as an act of faith and love, we were asked to spend our time caring for and nurturing the earth and all of its inhabitants…both flora and fauna.
Another very telling action of stewardship comes to us from the pages of Leviticus:
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. (Lev 19.9-10)
This is the idea of almsgiving…or caring for the poor, the stranger and the traveler. It comes from the truth that all people are created in the image and likeness of God…and when we provide for the least among us we provide for God Himself.
This truth of Stewardship is made crystal clear in the 25 chapter of Saint Matthew…in these pages Jesus gives us the conditions of our judgment in that when we serve the poor and the naked and the sick we serve Jesus…and when we deny the poor and the naked and the sick we deny Jesus Himself.
So then, a very large part of Stewardship is a caring for the poor and the sojourner. Stewardship is realizing our blessings and abundance come as a gift and a grace of God to be shared with the less fortunate…that these gifts and the graces are to be used to glorify God in the care of His poor and needy.
Stewardship, our thankful response to God is an all encompassing action. Through the faithful recognition that God created everything good and that God has granted us, through His grace and mercy everything we have…
We respond and interact with all of creation out of a sense of our love for God and our love of all the He made.
We respond and care for all of creation…or business dealings, our environment, the people and things around us…the poor, the orphan and widow…
A faithful response of stewardship is a generous and loving response God’s creation.
It is a bit close to the mid term elections to talk about socialism in the great state of Mississippi…but to show how all encompassing the idea of stewardship was in the early Church I give you a passage from the Book of Acts:
And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. (Acts 2.42-45)
And they held all things in common…and cared for every need. So, then, this is the example par excellance of what Stewardship really means. No one had any needs…and the entirety of a person’s life became a thank offering to God with nothing held back.
As we prayerfully consider our own lives as stewards of God’s creation…as stewards of God’s gifts and graces…as we think about how we will respond in actions with thanksgiving we should hold up this passage in Acts as a pinnacle and signpost of the direction we should be moving in our lives of faith.
We’ve talked about stewardship that addresses all the wide world…from plants and animals to the poor and the stranger…but have said nothing about giving to the Church…so what then does stewardship have to do with the Church of God on earth?
For that answer we go back to the Book of Genesis and the story of Jacob…one of the Patriarchs and founders of the nation of Israel…a father of the people of God.
This particular passage comes right after the story of Jacob’s ladder when Jacob is fleeing from his brother Esau. Jacob lays down to sleep with his head on a stone in the desert, has a dream of Angels descending and ascending a ladder from earth to heaven and is assured of the blessing and presence of God. In response to that dream we get this passage:
Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the LORD shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that thou givest me I will give the tenth to thee.” (Gen 28.20-23)
Jacob sets up the stone as a pillar, builds a structure and vows to God that he will return a tenth of all that God has given him as a thank offering.
Even within the Christian tradition, there are many similarities between Jacob’s notion of the House of God and ours.
The Church is a place set apart for prayer and worship. The Church is a place that is consecrated and given to God- it is literally offered to God as His house. It is also the house that the Christians gather in to worship and pray…to learn and love…it is our true home.
In our prayers and in our liturgies…this is the place where Heaven and earth touch…come together…are joined…where is the ladder descends…it is here we meet Jesus Christ, living and true.
And so it is here, in the House of God…in the presence of Jesus Christ…we bring the thank offerings of our lives…our first fruits…our tithes…it is here we give back to God those things he has given us…it is a pattern and guide for the stewardship of our lives in the world.
And we, as stewards of the House of God, use those thank offerings in ways that become the House of God…in ways that honor and glorify God.
The thank offerings of our lives are used to upkeep the House of God in a fitting manner. The thank offerings are used to purchase those things necessary for the worship of God in His House.
The thank offerings keep a priest to administer the Sacraments, to guide the parish family…to offer spiritual council…to teach and to evangelize…to love and to care for the parish family.
The thank offerings are used to support the ministries of the House of God…ministries such as education, care for the poor in our community…and formation as followers of Jesus Christ.
In real and tangible ways…the thank offerings that are brought to the altar of God in His house are manifested into a physical and active testimony to God’s love and mercy.
This house of God…Saint John’s Parish…is in many ways the collective manifestation of our faith in God…of our love for God…it is a manifestation of the thanksgivings of our lives.
So it is fitting and proper to offer our thanksgivings here…in this House of God…for it is a living and active testimony to Stewardship…to God’s love and mercy.
As we begin our Stewardship season…I commend these things to you…Stewardship is not one choice among many…it is a way of life and a way of being…it is the acknowledgement of all God has given and done through the works of our lives.
Stewardship poses questions for us to answer:
Is our life a thanksgiving to God?
Does our life and the things we do glorify God and glorify His creation?
Can the world look at us and see Jesus Christ active and living in all that we are and all that we do?
The goal of Stewardship is to make our lives reflections of God’s mercy and love…and to make his House a living and vibrant thank offering and a powerful beacon to the community of the love and mercy found in Jesus Christ.
So, this day, let us give ourselves fully the joys of being God’s stewards.