Christmas Eve 2013 – Sermon

When people try to solve the problems of the world, they typically propose a new philosophy or “program.” The modern world has been full of “isms” and schemes. They have all failed to do all that they promised. Some “work” better than others because they take more accurate account of sin. Nonetheless, the fall of man, and the enduring flaw in the human condition that results from it, remains the problem that no idea or plan can solve.

The birth of the Son of God on Christmas is the beginning of the answer to our condition because he will solve the problem of sin. We need new people, not new philosophies or ideals, and Jesus Christ in the manger on Christmas is The New Man. He has God for his Father and the Blessed Virgin for his Mother. He is fully God—as he always has been; but now he is also fully human.

The word “human” is, for us, synonymous with words like “flawed” and “sinful.” We excuse our foibles and failures by saying, “We’re only human.” Christmas reveals this to be a false premise. For Jesus is human, but not flawed or sinful. In fact, our sins reveal that we are yet fully human. We are only in the process of becoming by grace what Jesus is by nature.

Jesus is fully human. He will eat, drink and celebrate. He will fast, weep and mourn. He will experience pain and pleasure, joy and anger, disappointment and frustration. He will be popular, then rejected by all. He will suffer and die; and then he will rise from the dead—because he is God and God cannot be held by death. Easter is the inevitable result of Christmas.

But Jesus will never sin. He will never worship an idol or act in malice. He will never use another person to get something for himself. He will never gossip about others to make himself feel good. He will never ignore the will of God and the good of others in order to make a profit. He will never mistake lust for love. In the words of 1 Corinthians 13, Jesus will suffer long and be kind. He will not envy; he will not show off or behave rudely. He will not seek his own> He will not rejoice in iniquity, but will rejoice in the truth. Jesus will bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). In other words, Jesus will be fully human.

In our Christmas collect we ask God to “grant…that we, being regenerate, and made thy children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by thy Holy Spirit” (BCP 96). Through the baptismal gift of the Spirit, our fallen humanity is renewed so that we can now be like him. We are no longer stuck in sub-human and beastly patterns of behavior. By grace we are sons and daughters of God.

However, grace is a gift that we must receive by faith—by continual prayer and trust in God—if we are to become in daily life what God has declared us to be in baptism. Therefore, as we begin to celebrate the twelve day feast of the Incarnation, let us set aside our doubts and fears and let us receive Christ into our hearts with new faith; let us be renewed by God’s Holy Spirit to become living members of the Body of Christ; let us be the incarnate presence of Jesus that changes our homes and families and the places where we work and play. Let us be new people who love in new ways. Let us be, not “only” human; let us be fully and genuinely human. As St. John writes, “As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name, which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:12-13).

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The Third Sunday in Advent 2013 – Sermon

“Judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (from the epistle). 

A. The focus of Advent 3

1. The third week in Advent focuses on John the Baptist and his ministry of preparation. The collect connects the ways John prepared Israel for Christ’s first coming with the vocation of the church to prepare people for Christ’s return in glory. The lessons are expectant: Paul looking for the Christ to come and judge the hearts, and John in prison waiting for Christ to come and judge his enemies.

2. We prepare for Christ’s coming by repentance. To repent is to change. We repent when we stop committing acts of sin and begin to pray and practice the disciplines that are necessary to detach us from our idols. We repent when we become aware of our selfishness and begin to orient our lives around the worship of God and service to others for his sake.

B. Outward and inward sin

1. There are stages of repentance. The first stage of repentance is when we turn away from obvious sinful actions: things like dishonesty in business, sexual immorality, excessive consumption, habitual acts of malice and sins of speech—gossip, slander and the like.

2. But this is only the beginning. Once we’ve made a serious effort through prayer to turn away from outward sin, we encounter the first real frustration and discouragement in the life of faith; for we discover that, having made all of these outward changes, we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of repentance.

3. We discover this in two principal ways. First, we discover that getting rid of the outward behavior does not get rid of the inward desire. In fact, as we stop acting sinfully, our sinful thoughts and impulses are magnified. The lack of outlet highlights the strength of the impulse. This is why Jesus focuses on inward intention in the Sermon on the Mount: 

You have heard that it was said to the men of old, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22).

And,

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Mathew 5:27-28).

4. We also discover new sins. When we first think about sin, we default to sins of the flesh like lust and gluttony. But as we grow in repentance we discover what Dorothy Sayers calls, “The other deadly sins:” Pride, envy, covetousness, malice and sloth. As we discover new sinful tendencies, there an extended season of time when it feels like we are actually getting worse. But we are not getting worse, we are merely seeing ourselves more clearly.

When we enter a dimly lit room, it may appear that one or two things are out of place and it will be relatively easy to clean. However, when we turn on all the lights, we discover that the whole room is a complete mess: spider webs in the corners, dust everywhere along the edges and all manner things that need to be thrown away. In the early stages of repentance, we examine ourselves in the dim light of the external commandments. We see a few things out of order. However, as we progress we begin to examine ourselves in the full light of the law of love (Romans 13:10). This fuller light reveals that we are in complete disorder.

5. This complete conviction of sin is a necessary foundation for growth. As long as we think that our lives only need one or two minor adjustments, we are light years away from understanding what John and Jesus mean when they say, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). To experience new birth in Christ, the old man must first die. Conviction of sin leading to good confessions is the instrument of death.

C. How we make progress

1. Three things are necessary for progress in repentance. First, we must be willing to change unfaithful patterns of behavior. If certain situations, relationships and places always lead to us into temptation and sin, we need to eliminate those situations, relationships and places from our lives. As Jesus says ever so bluntly, 

If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:30).

2. Second, we need begin to develop the various virtues. Sin is merely a perversion and misuse of the good that God has given us. It is not enough to not sin. We must cultivate right patterns of thinking and acting. When these take root, sin will naturally disappear. Thus, we overcome pride through the practice of humility. We conquer covetousness as we begin to practice generosity. We defeat envy as we learn contentment and gratitude. We overcome anger as we grow in patience and charity. We cultivate virtue by asking God to give us the virtue we lack, and then by actively practicing that virtue in our daily lives.

3. The third and most important thing that is necessary for progress is perseverance. We must persevere in our confessions and in receiving the grace of forgiveness that frees us from guilt; and we must persevere in practicing new behaviors. We do not fail in the life of prayer because we struggle and sometimes fall. We fail because we give up the fight.

4. Spiritual growth occurs organically. We plant a seed and it grows slowly into a plant as it receives water and sunlight. We give birth to a child and the child grows slowly into an adult as the child is fed and trained. We plant the seed of the Spirit and a person becomes a newborn child of God. That life grows as it nurtured by the grace of the Sacraments, the disciplines of the life of prayer and the support of the Body of Christ. This life will grow as long as we persevere in the disciplines and community of faith—and it will not if we don’t.

5. Thus, Advent exhorts us not only to repent but also to continue in our repentance, “until the Lord comes who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and make manifest the counsels of the hearts.” Then we will each receive our praise from God. 

 

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The Second Sunday in Advent 2013 – Sermon

A. The Gospel and Bible Sunday.

1. In the gospel, Jesus describes his coming in judgment using the image of the Son of Man coming on the clouds—an image taken from Daniel 7:13-14. Jesus tells his hearers, “This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” This suggests that he is referring to the judgment on Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70, within a generation of Jesus’ death. Indeed, during his trial, Jesus had told those who condemned him, “You will see the Son of Man…coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

2. Jesus said this after Palm Sunday and just before his crucifixion. That is, just as he was about to be condemned and executed, he prophesied that the false judgment the world would not stand. He would be vindicated in the Resurrection and God’s righteous judgment would be executed on those who wrongly put him to death.

3. Today is called Bible Sunday because the lessons focus on how God’s word gives us a sure and certain hope in the midst of the false promises and judgments of the world. As Jesus said in the gospel, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” That is, everything we see, and touch has an expiration date; but everything God wills and speaks will come to pass and endure into eternity.

B. The discipline of Bible reading

1. Jesus is THE Word of God. The Bible is the primary way Jesus is revealed to us. The written word reveals to us the eternal and Incarnate Word. Thus, if we want to know Jesus, we must read and listen to the Bible.

2. Bible reading is a spiritual discipline. It will not shape and form our attitudes and behavior unless we do practice it as a habit. Many people read the Bible in times of spiritual excitement or crisis; but once the excitement of conversion or renewal passes, or once the crisis is solved, they stop. Thus, the Bible becomes a periodic source of inspiration or comfort, but not a formative influence.

3. No spiritual discipline will cause us to think and act more like Christ over the course of time unless we learn to practice it even when we don’t feel like it. We don’t practice an art or skill, and we don’t exercise and eat a good diet, because we always feel like it; we do these things because we know such habits are essential to competence and health. When our practice of spiritual disciplines is governed by how we feel, we necessarily settle for a lesser state of spiritual competence and health—for eventually we will not feel like doing what is spiritually necessary and beneficial.

4. When our life of prayer (which includes regular Bible reading) is governed by our will rather than by our emotions, we build our lives upon the solid foundation of things that are eternal (cf. Mathew 7:24-27). Conversely, when we allow our behavior to be perpetually driven by what excites us in the moment, we consign ourselves to a life focused on transitory things; for so much of what perpetually grabs our attention in our consumer and marketing culture is of little lasting value.

C. Our inheritance

1. As Anglicans, we are heirs of a tradition that places great emphasis on Bible reading. The English Reformation was a reform of the church through the lens and filter of the Bible. There is an ongoing need for such reform. Churches and individuals fall into religious patterns of behavior that take on a non-biblical life of their own over time. If you ask, why are you doing that? The answer is, this is the way we (or I) have always done it. If you ask, how does the thing that’s always been done promote conversion of the heart or spiritual growth, there is no answer. Many people fight, they exercise a lack of the biblical virtue of charity or love, to maintain religious habits that are no longer rooted in God’s word.

2. This does not mean we should abandon the ancient tradition of the church. For an equal and opposite error occurs when spiritual energy is not channeled into the form of the authentic tradition. Unbridled spiritual energy can generate much non productive activity. It is like a person who runs without form or direction. He runs, now left and now right; he flails with a variety of strides and arms motions. There is much activity but no efficient progress because there is no form or direction to guide it.

3. Thus, if the church becomes dead in its liturgical worship; if the people go through the outward forms but do not experience inner renewal, the answer is not to abandon the liturgy. The answer is to return to Bible; to hear the Word of God again, to be inwardly converted again so that the liturgy once again becomes the outward expression of our inner faith.

D. The Prayer Book framework for Bible reading

1. This continual reform, and the practice of Bible reading as a discipline, is really rather simple for us as Anglicans. It just means taking the Prayer Book seriously as our Rule of prayer. The Prayer Book provides Bible lessons for each Sunday that reflect the theme of the season. We are called to hear them prayerfully. They are meant to open our hearts to Jesus so that we will be ready to receive him in the Sacrament.

2. The Prayer Book provides daily Morning and Evening Prayer with a lectionary for daily Bible reading; that is, a list of Bible lessons to be read each and every day of the year—two at Morning Prayer and two at Evening Prayer, along with a plan for praying the Psalms (We discuss this in some detail in our Inquirers’ Class).

3. It had been said by some in our tradition that the Morning and Evening Prayer are for the clergy, not the laity. This is baloney. The Prayer Book was written for the people not for the clergy. The English Reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale had as his goal that the plowman of his day would know more Scripture than the clergy. The Prayer Book envisions the whole church participating together in the daily office and its daily readings.

4. This daily habit is both a spiritual discipline and a means of continual reform. We don’t have think each day about what we are going to read. We just have to develop the habit of actually reading what the church has appointed for us. As we read the Bible in this habitual manner, our behavior is continually confronted and reformed. For the Bible convicts us of our selfishness and ingratitude, leads us to confession and forgiveness, and inspires us to live in a new way. 

E. An exhortation.

1. We find ourselves historically in a similar position to our Lord in today’s gospel. Our culture has also rejected Jesus and his call to repent. As during Holy Week, those who oppose God seem to be winning. However, now as then, things are not as they appear. Like the first century crucifiers of our Lord, his modern adversaries will also see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in power and judgment; and, as with his first century followers, all who are faithful to Christ will be vindicated by him and with him.

2. We can only understand this; we can only see what is really going on from God’s perspective by reading the Bible. As we “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the biblical word of God we “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life” over and against the false promises and hopes of the world. We are called to do this as a daily discipline. For, as Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

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The Second Sunday in Advent 2013 – Sermon

A. The Gospel and Bible Sunday.

1. In the gospel, Jesus describes his coming in judgment using the image of the Son of Man coming on the clouds—an image taken from Daniel 7:13-14. Jesus tells his hearers, “This generation shall not pass away till all be fulfilled.” This suggests that he is referring to the judgment on Jerusalem that took place in A.D. 70, within a generation of Jesus’ death. Indeed, during his trial, Jesus had told those who condemned him, “You will see the Son of Man…coming on the clouds of heaven” (Matthew 26:64).

2. Jesus said this after Palm Sunday and just before his crucifixion. That is, just as he was about to be condemned and executed, he prophesied that the false judgment the world would not stand. He would be vindicated in the Resurrection and God’s righteous judgment would be executed on those who wrongly put him to death.

3. Today is called Bible Sunday because the lessons focus on how God’s word gives us a sure and certain hope in the midst of the false promises and judgments of the world. As Jesus said in the gospel, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” That is, everything we see, and touch has an expiration date; but everything God wills and speaks will come to pass and endure into eternity.

B. The discipline of Bible reading

1. Jesus is THE Word of God. The Bible is the primary way Jesus is revealed to us. The written word reveals to us the eternal and Incarnate Word. Thus, if we want to know Jesus, we must read and listen to the Bible.

2. Bible reading is a spiritual discipline. It will not shape and form our attitudes and behavior unless we do practice it as a habit. Many people read the Bible in times of spiritual excitement or crisis; but once the excitement of conversion or renewal passes, or once the crisis is solved, they stop. Thus, the Bible becomes a periodic source of inspiration or comfort, but not a formative influence.

3. No spiritual discipline will cause us to think and act more like Christ over the course of time unless we learn to practice it even when we don’t feel like it. We don’t practice an art or skill, and we don’t exercise and eat a good diet, because we always feel like it; we do these things because we know such habits are essential to competence and health. When our practice of spiritual disciplines is governed by how we feel, we necessarily settle for a lesser state of spiritual competence and health—for eventually we will not feel like doing what is spiritually necessary and beneficial.

4. When our life of prayer (which includes regular Bible reading) is governed by our will rather than by our emotions, we build our lives upon the solid foundation of things that are eternal (cf. Mathew 7:24-27). Conversely, when we allow our behavior to be perpetually driven by what excites us in the moment, we consign ourselves to a life focused on transitory things; for so much of what perpetually grabs our attention in our consumer and marketing culture is of little lasting value.

C. Our inheritance

1. As Anglicans, we are heirs of a tradition that places great emphasis on Bible reading. The English Reformation was a reform of the church through the lens and filter of the Bible. There is an ongoing need for such reform. Churches and individuals fall into religious patterns of behavior that take on a non-biblical life of their own over time. If you ask, why are you doing that? The answer is, this is the way we (or I) have always done it. If you ask, how does the thing that’s always been done promote conversion of the heart or spiritual growth, there is no answer. Many people fight, they exercise a lack of the biblical virtue of charity or love, to maintain religious habits that are no longer rooted in God’s word.

2. This does not mean we should abandon the ancient tradition of the church. For an equal and opposite error occurs when spiritual energy is not channeled into the form of the authentic tradition. Unbridled spiritual energy can generate much non productive activity. It is like a person who runs without form or direction. He runs, now left and now right; he flails with a variety of strides and arms motions. There is much activity but no efficient progress because there is no form or direction to guide it.

3. Thus, if the church becomes dead in its liturgical worship; if the people go through the outward forms but do not experience inner renewal, the answer is not to abandon the liturgy. The answer is to return to Bible; to hear the Word of God again, to be inwardly converted again so that the liturgy once again becomes the outward expression of our inner faith.

D. The Prayer Book framework for Bible reading

1. This continual reform, and the practice of Bible reading as a discipline, is really rather simple for us as Anglicans. It just means taking the Prayer Book seriously as our Rule of prayer. The Prayer Book provides Bible lessons for each Sunday that reflect the theme of the season. We are called to hear them prayerfully. They are meant to open our hearts to Jesus so that we will be ready to receive him in the Sacrament.

2. The Prayer Book provides daily Morning and Evening Prayer with a lectionary for daily Bible reading; that is, a list of Bible lessons to be read each and every day of the year—two at Morning Prayer and two at Evening Prayer, along with a plan for praying the Psalms (We discuss this in some detail in our Inquirers’ Class).

3. It had been said by some in our tradition that the Morning and Evening Prayer are for the clergy, not the laity. This is baloney. The Prayer Book was written for the people not for the clergy. The English Reformer and Bible translator William Tyndale had as his goal that the plowman of his day would know more Scripture than the clergy. The Prayer Book envisions the whole church participating together in the daily office and its daily readings.

4. This daily habit is both a spiritual discipline and a means of continual reform. We don’t have think each day about what we are going to read. We just have to develop the habit of actually reading what the church has appointed for us. As we read the Bible in this habitual manner, our behavior is continually confronted and reformed. For the Bible convicts us of our selfishness and ingratitude, leads us to confession and forgiveness, and inspires us to live in a new way. 

E. An exhortation.

1. We find ourselves historically in a similar position to our Lord in today’s gospel. Our culture has also rejected Jesus and his call to repent. As during Holy Week, those who oppose God seem to be winning. However, now as then, things are not as they appear. Like the first century crucifiers of our Lord, his modern adversaries will also see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in power and judgment; and, as with his first century followers, all who are faithful to Christ will be vindicated by him and with him.

2. We can only understand this; we can only see what is really going on from God’s perspective by reading the Bible. As we “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” the biblical word of God we “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life” over and against the false promises and hopes of the world. We are called to do this as a daily discipline. For, as Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

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The First Sunday in Advent

A. Advent and the coming of Christ

1. Advent begins today. It points us toward the coming of Christ, both at Christmas and at the end of time, and calls us to get ready—with a note of urgency: “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13:12).

2. We read the Palm Sunday gospel on the First Sunday in Advent because it presents the image of Christ coming to Jerusalem. “Behold thy king cometh unto thee, meek and sitting upon an ass” (Matthew 21:5). The Advent Collect, which we pray daily throughout the season, contrasts this coming in humility with Christ’s anticipated Second Coming in glory to judge the world. We ask for grace to repent and accept the humble Savior now so that we will be ready to face the glorious and righteous judge then.

3. These are compelling themes, but just how are we to apply them to our lives in meaningful ways? The Second Coming of Christ has been emphasized in several periods and places in church history. The “Jesus Movement” of the 1970’s that began in Orange County emphasized this. Adventist movements cause excitement about Christ’s coming for a short season; but once the excitement passes, the long term impact is debatable

B. The difficulty of changing

1. There are two reasons that the change Advent calls for is difficult to sustain. First, excitement doesn’t change. We may get stirred up by a charismatic speaker who tells us Christ is coming soon; but that momentary enthusiasm will always wane. As we return to the routines of life, world, flesh and devil will conspire to extinguish the flickering flame.

2. The second and more significant reason is that our culture is inordinately oriented towards the temporal; towards outward appearance rather than inward virtue; towards finding happiness now and, thus, towards eliminating the present cross that leads to future glory. Repentance involves a reorientation of our lives towards the things that are eternal. This is opposed in our culture at every turn. Consequently, repentance is hard to sustain.

3. We are unable to give persistent and honest attention to uncomfortable and weighty issues. There is an appetite for only so much reality before we must return to something that makes us feel good. For example, when a natural disaster hits, the news networks will only cover the tragic nature of it for a short and defined season of time. Then they will instruct their people to wrap up the coverage with some positive stories about aid given and recovery experienced before pulling their crews out altogether. This happens even when nothing about the condition on the ground has substantially improved.

4. Scott Peck once wrote that “all neurosis results from the attempt to avoid legitimate suffering.” We attempt to avoid legitimate suffering everywhere. We have a cultural tendency to choose comfort in the moment over the temporal pain that will produce long term good. This is why we can’t solve any problems in a lasting way. We are always looking for the solution that doesn’t require any pain. We are always choosing the pain killer over the more painful cure.

5. Lest this be seen as an opportunity for us to criticize the world “out there,” we must acknowledge that we all do this. This tendency reflects the fallen human we all possess. Why is it that I can watch a three hour sporting or entertainment event without thinking about the time, but complain that an hour and half is too long for the worship of God? Why is that I can spend extended periods of time reading about sports, entertainment or business, but then say that I do not have time to read Morning Prayer?

We hear the Advent message, “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” But once the dust settles, we return to business as usual because it is just easier that way.

C. Repentance, the life of prayer and eternity vs. time

1. The point of this is not merely to make people feel guilty. To be sure, we are all guilty, and guilt has its place if it leads us to change. However, the point is to highlight how we have all unwittingly accepted a value system that undermines the central message of the gospel. If we are always primarily concerned with how comfortable we are in the moment and with avoiding every negative and painful thing, we simply will not be able to repent.

2. The word repentance in New Testament means “to have a change of mind,” to see things in a different way. This change of mind will lead us to reorder our lives. We will learn to act in the present moment in the light of our eternal hope and destiny. In other words, we learn to habitually reject the pain killer that avoids the truth and leads us to judgment; we will learn to embrace the cross that leads to resurrection.

3. This reorientation can only take place through a renewed commitment to the life of prayer. Through the disciplines of the life of prayer, we grow in our experience of God’s presence. The grace of Sacrament and prayer causes us to “daily increase in the Holy Spirit more and more” (BCP 297). Grace cultivates within us a taste for “the things that remain” (Revelation 3:2) and a growing distaste for things that are temporal and passing.

4.  Repentance must lead us to a life of prayer or it will not last. The excitement of Advent will not lead to change if it only leads us to try harder. Unaided human effort will always fall short of the glory of God. Over time, prayer will produce in us the fruit of changed behavior; but to merely try harder will only lead to failure, frustration and loss of faith.

5. Through our disciplines of prayer—through our Rule—we begin to impose the reality of eternity upon our lives in time; the kingdom of God comes into our lives now and begins to change us. Apart from the habitual experience of grace that comes to us through prayer there will be no lasting change in our lives.

D. Advent and the will to change.

1. Of course, we don’t have time for prayer. It is too difficult to re-order the pattern of our lives—and it is very inconvenient. There are too many current demands. Perhaps we can change next year or in another season of life when things slow down.

2. Change requires that we reorient our lives towards eternity and away from the false urgencies, values and promise of the world. But, are we really willing to do that? Do we really want to change? These are the questions Advent asks us as it reminds us, “Now it is high time to awake out of sleep, for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent. The day is at hand.”

 

 

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The Twenty-Forth Sunday After Trinity

A. Our Mission Statement.

1. We have ongoing discussions among our staff about what it means to be a member of our church. These discussions are fueled by a desire to maintain a standard for membership that aims at our sense of mission.

2. About fifteen years ago, we adopted a mission statement. To make it appropriate to our Anglican identity, we took it right from the Book of Common Prayer. In the Offices of Instruction, the question is asked, “What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?” The answer given is: “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom” (BCP 291). This is what we understand the mission of our church to be. We can summarize its meaning as follows:

a. To follow Christ. Through prayer, Scripture and the counsel of God’s people, we are called to discern what Jesus is calling us to do and obediently follow where he leads us. 

b. To worship God every Sunday in his Church. Sunday is the Lord’s Day and the Day of Resurrection; it is the day we gather to remember the Lord’s death, reaffirm our baptism, and receive a foretaste of the coming heavenly feast. As Hebrews says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (10:24-25). 

c. To pray for the spread of the kingdom. Thought it is second in the list, prayer is the first activity of faith. The Christian life is a life of prayer. We believe that it is best lived according to a pattern or Rule. Our life of prayer begins at the Altar. It continues in daily prayer that is rooted in the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. These are the foundation for our ongoing personal conversation with God in Christ through the Spirit. Through prayer, we worship God, give thanks, confess our sins and intercede for the needs of the world.

d. To work for the spread of the kingdom. This does not refer only to what we do at church. We are called to do whatever we do to the glory of God and for the good of others. We should be excellent, honest and diligent in what we do. Our interactions with othersshould be characterized by love, respect and service. Our primary witness is not telling others about Jesus, but showing Jesus to others. 

Of course, there is work to be done in the church. We are called to share in the work of the church according to our available time and gifts. God has given each of us what the Bible calls “spiritual gifts.” We discover who we really are by identifying our gifts and using them to serve others for Christ. 1 Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10, ESV, see also Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:7-13).

e. To give for the spread of the kingdom. We believe that stewardship begins with the tithe. We tithe when we give back to God through his church the first tenth of what God has given us. This is how we acknowledge that all we have belongs to God. There are many objections to tithing, rooted in our attachment to our money, but there are no good reasons not to tithe. In a culture in which we spend so much money on so many things, from sports, hobbies and entertainments to homes cars and other possessions, the failure to tithe means, simply, that our faith is not as much of a priority to us as other things. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will you heart be also” (Matthew 6:21). 

Beyond the tithe, we are called to be generous givers according to our ability. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, our giving is accepted when we are willing to give, “according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). We give because we are made in the image of a generous God who gives us all things, and we give because God has made a world in which we receive by giving. As Jesus said, 

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38).

B. Membership in our Church

1. A member of our church is one who participates in our mission. We have been particularly blessed as a church—we have been able to accomplish so much—because so many of our people share this vision for ministry. I am extremely grateful for your presence in this church, and I am continually humbled by your faithfulness and generosity. 

2. There are, to be sure, other ways to look at membership in the church. One who prays infrequently—mainly in times of crisis—comes to church on Christmas, Easter and a few other occasions and makes some occasional contribution may, by some stretch of our by- laws, qualify as a member. However, we aim higher than this.

3. Aiming higher is the challenge of spiritual growth. We strive to be “perfect as [our] Father in heaven in perfect” (Matthew 5:48) even as we acknowledge that we are not there yet. This is why we need the church. In the Body of Christ we can confess our failures, be forgiven and receive the grace and strength we need to make progress towards the goal.

4. Still, there is a distinction between those who work, by grace, at growing towards the ideal and those who settle for the status quo. It is one thing to struggle and occasionally fall. It is another thing to not get back up or to never engage the battle in the first place. 

C. Membership in the Body of Christ

1. We often associate the word member with the word club. However, when we are baptized into Christ, we become living parts of an organism—not members in a club. As Ephesians says, “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (5:30, NKJ). In a living organism, members are interdependent. The behavior of one member affects the well being of all. If the legs decide not to do their work, the whole body is stuck in place. If the mouth decides not to chew, the whole body becomes malnourished.

2. When God calls a church to do something, God provides the gifted people that are necessary to carry out the work. But if the gifted people are unwilling to use their gifts, the church will not be able to fully accomplish God’s will. The Body of Christ in that place will walk with a limp or suffer from a lack of resources. Our individual behavior as members of the Body of Christ always impacts the whole body, whether for good or ill.

D. An Exhortation

1. In a sermon I gave after my consecration as bishop, I said that our whole church has been called to a higher office. A bishop is but one member a body. As I begin to do new work, other gifted members of our church will need to step in and do new things to fill in the gaps. Some who are now on the sidelines will need to enter the game. And God will send us new members with new gifts so that we will be able to do new things. The net result will be an increase in ministry everywhere. When all give more, all receive more.

2. Each year we send pledge cards to our members. A pledge card is a tithing estimate that helps the church to make a budget for the coming year. A pledge card is not intended to bind us to a commitment we cannot keep if we lose our job midyear or receive less income than we estimated. The commitment to tithe is a commitment to tithe from actual income. A tithe of 0 is 0; if we do better than we thought our tithe will be more. The most important thing is this: A pledge card indicates that you are committed to our mission to follow Christ, worship God and work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom. If we all make a commitment to our mission, God will provide the gifts and resources we need. 

3. We have great opportunities for ministry. In a broken and dying world, we have the opportunity to do things that matter for eternity, to participate in God’s work of new creation. I ask you to join me in renewing our commitment to our mission so that we may fulfill our calling—so that we, in the words of Ephesians, 

May grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (4:15-16, NKJ).

 

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The Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Trinity

A. Our Mission Statement.

1. We have ongoing discussions among our staff about what it means to be a member of our church. These discussions are fueled by a desire to maintain a standard for membership that aims at our sense of mission.

2. About fifteen years ago, we adopted a mission statement. To make it appropriate to our Anglican identity, we took it right from the Book of Common Prayer. In the Offices of Instruction, the question is asked, “What is your bounden duty as a member of the Church?” The answer given is: “My bounden duty is to follow Christ, to worship God every Sunday in his Church; and to work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom” (BCP 291). This is what we understand the mission of our church to be. We can summarize its meaning as follows:

a. To follow Christ. Through prayer, Scripture and the counsel of God’s people, we are called to discern what Jesus is calling us to do and obediently follow where he leads us.

b. To worship God every Sunday in his Church. Sunday is the Lord’s Day and the Day of Resurrection; it is the day we gather to remember the Lord’s death, reaffirm our baptism, and receive a foretaste of the coming heavenly feast. As Hebrews says, “Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching (10:24-25).

c. To pray for the spread of the kingdom. Thought it is second in the list, prayer is the first activity of faith. The Christian life is a life of prayer. We believe that it is best lived according to a pattern or Rule. Our life of prayer begins at the Altar. It continues in daily prayer that is rooted in the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer. These are the foundation for our ongoing personal conversation with God in Christ through the Spirit. Through prayer, we worship God, give thanks, confess our sins and intercede for the needs of the world.

d. To work for the spread of the kingdom. This does not refer only to what we do at church. We are called to do whatever we do to the glory of God and for the good of others. We should be excellent, honest and diligent in what we do. Our interactions with othersshould be characterized by love, respect and service. Our primary witness is not telling others about Jesus, but showing Jesus to others.

Of course, there is work to be done in the church. We are called to share in the work of the church according to our available time and gifts. God has given each of us what the Bible calls “spiritual gifts.” We discover who we really are by identifying our gifts and using them to serve others for Christ. 1 Peter says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10, ESV, see also Romans 12:3-8, Ephesians 4:7-13).

e. To give for the spread of the kingdom. We believe that stewardship begins with the tithe. We tithe when we give back to God through his church the first tenth of what God has given us. This is how we acknowledge that all we have belongs to God. There are many objections to tithing, rooted in our attachment to our money, but there are no good reasons not to tithe. In a culture in which we spend so much money on so many things, from sports, hobbies and entertainments to homes cars and other possessions, the failure to tithe means, simply, that our faith is not as much of a priority to us as other things. As Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will you heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Beyond the tithe, we are called to be generous givers according to our ability. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, our giving is accepted when we are willing to give, “according to what one has, not according to what one does not have” (2 Corinthians 8:12). We give because we are made in the image of a generous God who gives us all things, and we give because God has made a world in which we receive by giving. As Jesus said,

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. (Luke 6:38).

B. Membership in our Church

1. A member of our church is one who participates in our mission. We have been particularly blessed as a church—we have been able to accomplish so much—because so many of our people share this vision for ministry. I am extremely grateful for your presence in this church, and I am continually humbled by your faithfulness and generosity.

2. There are, to be sure, other ways to look at membership in the church. One who prays infrequently—mainly in times of crisis—comes to church on Christmas, Easter and a few other occasions and makes some occasional contribution may, by some stretch of our by- laws, qualify as a member. However, we aim higher than this.

3. Aiming higher is the challenge of spiritual growth. We strive to be “perfect as [our] Father in heaven in perfect” (Matthew 5:48) even as we acknowledge that we are not there yet. This is why we need the church. In the Body of Christ we can confess our failures, be forgiven and receive the grace and strength we need to make progress towards the goal.

4. Still, there is a distinction between those who work, by grace, at growing towards the ideal and those who settle for the status quo. It is one thing to struggle and occasionally fall. It is another thing to not get back up or to never engage the battle in the first place.

C. Membership in the Body of Christ

1. We often associate the word member with the word club. However, when we are baptized into Christ, we become living parts of an organism—not members in a club. As Ephesians says, “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (5:30, NKJ). In a living organism, members are interdependent. The behavior of one member affects the well being of all. If the legs decide not to do their work, the whole body is stuck in place. If the mouth decides not to chew, the whole body becomes malnourished.

2. When God calls a church to do something, God provides the gifted people that are necessary to carry out the work. But if the gifted people are unwilling to use their gifts, the church will not be able to fully accomplish God’s will. The Body of Christ in that place will walk with a limp or suffer from a lack of resources. Our individual behavior as members of the Body of Christ always impacts the whole body, whether for good or ill.

D. An Exhortation

1. In a sermon I gave after my consecration as bishop, I said that our whole church has been called to a higher office. A bishop is but one member a body. As I begin to do new work, other gifted members of our church will need to step in and do new things to fill in the gaps. Some who are now on the sidelines will need to enter the game. And God will send us new members with new gifts so that we will be able to do new things. The net result will be an increase in ministry everywhere. When all give more, all receive more.

2. Each year we send pledge cards to our members. A pledge card is a tithing estimate that helps the church to make a budget for the coming year. A pledge card is not intended to bind us to a commitment we cannot keep if we lose our job midyear or receive less income than we estimated. The commitment to tithe is a commitment to tithe from actual income. A tithe of 0 is 0; if we do better than we thought our tithe will be more. The most important thing is this: A pledge card indicates that you are committed to our mission to follow Christ, worship God and work and pray and give for the spread of his kingdom. If we all make a commitment to our mission, God will provide the gifts and resources we need.

3. We have great opportunities for ministry. In a broken and dying world, we have the opportunity to do things that matter for eternity, to participate in God’s work of new creation. I ask you to join me in renewing our commitment to our mission so that we may fulfill our calling—so that we, in the words of Ephesians,

May grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (4:15-16, NKJ).

Twentieth Sunday After Trinity 2013 – Sermon

A. The Prayer Book and Bible

1. My late friend and mentor Bishop Cahoon once described the Book of Common Prayer as “the Bible in usable form.” There are several ways this is so. There are two lectionaries: The lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer and the proper lessons for communion. The daily office lectionary takes us through an annual cycle of the whole Bible in a way that connects with the liturgical seasons. The communion lectionary assigns certain lessons to each Sunday and feast, giving each its own unique biblical emphasis.

2. The Prayer Book also matches lessons with other lessons: an Old Testament and a New Testament lesson in the daily offices and an epistle and gospel for communion, along with a starred Old Testament lesson for each Sunday. This provides opportunity for meditation on the thematic connection between the lessons. This also provides opportunity to reflect on how each Sunday’s lessons connect with those for the previous or subsequent Sundays in a season.

B. The Parable of the Wedding Feast and the Parable of the Great Supper (Trinity 2).

1. Today’s gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, calls to mind a Parable from the Second Sunday after Trinity, the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16f.). In both lessons there is a man who makes a feast and invites people. In both lessons the invited guests refuse to come; in both the invited guests end up being disinvited, and the host invites other people to replace them.

2. However, there is a significant distinction. The Parable of the Great Supper stresses evangelism with regard to the newly invited—“Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). The Parable of the Wedding Feast emphasizes judgment—“Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” It is thematically significant that the evangelical parable comes at the beginning of Trinity and the judgment parable comes towards the end.

3. Both parables deal with the same basic theme. The people of Israel were God’s covenant people and were the invited guests. However, when Jesus and the apostles called them to repent and believe in the Messiah, and, thus, fulfill the covenant, they refused. So, God invited other guests—non-observant Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles—to take their place.

4. The Parable of the Great Supper ends with that initial shift in the constituency of the kingdom. Membership in God’s covenant people is now open to all. The Parable of the Wedding Feast moves forward. It provides an assessment of God’s new covenant people. It lets us know that just as God’s old covenant people were judged in terms of their faithfulness to the covenant and their response to God’s call, so God’s new covenant people—you and me—will also be judged by our faithfulness and our response.

C. The Man without a Wedding Garment

1. In the parable, the king who made a marriage for his son came into the party and surveyed the guests. He found one not properly clothed and summarily cast him into “outer darkness.” In essence, he treated this unfaithful new covenant representative in the same way he treated the old covenant unfaithful.

2. We might envision the scene in the manner. We are gathered around the altar for the Eucharist and, suddenly, instead of the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus himself appears in person and looks us all over. This would put a whole new spin on what it means to be properly dressed for church! But, of course, this is simply what we believe will happen. Someday, sacrament, sign and symbol will give way to the realities they represent. If we understand this, then our whole practice of the faith will be a systematic and habitual preparation for that day.

3. So, just what is the wedding garment? Though it has been the subject of no small debate historically, the general framework of the answer seems obvious. Last week’s epistle spoke of baptism in terms of “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new man. Baptism is associated with a change of clothes; taking off the old garment of sin and putting on the new garment of holiness and righteousness. This is reflected in Revelation 7:14, which says of the redeemed that they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”

4. Thus, the man without a wedding garment was someone who had been baptized and was an occasional—or maybe even a regular—attendee at church. But he never embraced or lived out his baptismal identity. He was not in the habit of putting off the old man through confession and putting on the new man through forgiveness, good works and virtue of charity. This man illustrates that God is just as unhappy with the unfaithful baptized as he was with the unfaithful circumcised.

D. Trinity 2, Trinity 20 and the Epistle

1. The prayer book places these two great lessons about the invitation to the feast at the two ends of Trinity season. The Parable of the Great Supper comes as the beginning, proclaiming that we are all freely invited to come. The Parable of the Wedding Feast comes towards the end, reminding us that if we come, we must come fully.

2. This highlights two aspects of being called by Christ; what Martin Thornton calls, “succor and demand.” On the one hand, “Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). On the other hand, he who “does not forsake all the he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is illustrated in the Eucharist. We attracted by the grace and succor of the Sacrament. But, as we come to Christ here, we realize that we are being offered on the altar along with Christ. Our coming to him requires the sacrifice of self, soul and body.

3. Our lessons today remind that we must take this all seriously. We are not merely “going to church,” and the purpose of being here is not merely to make ourselves feel good. Rather, the kingdom of God is already present in and among us through the Spirit. Here the Spirit speaks to us through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The Spirit calls and requires us to respond to the invitation to repent and change. It is our vocation, as baptized Christians, to habitually listen to what God says to us, day by day and week by week and allow God’s grace to change us into new people who live in a new way.

4. Our epistle exhorts us, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools by as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” In new time of the kingdom, today is the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day points us forward to the Day of the Lord. Now our sinful bodies are made clean and our souls washed through a gradual process. Then we will be changed in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52), when we see Christ in person. Therefore, let us be faithful in the life of prayer, in putting off the old and putting on the new so that we may be properly dressed when the king arrives.

Download this sermon.

Twentieth Sunday After Trinity 2013 – Sermon

A. The Prayer Book and Bible

1. My late friend and mentor Bishop Cahoon once described the Book of Common Prayer as “the Bible in usable form.” There are several ways this is so. There are two lectionaries: The lectionary for Morning and Evening Prayer and the proper lessons for communion. The daily office lectionary takes us through an annual cycle of the whole Bible in a way that connects with the liturgical seasons. The communion lectionary assigns certain lessons to each Sunday and feast, giving each its own unique biblical emphasis.

2. The Prayer Book also matches lessons with other lessons: an Old Testament and a New Testament lesson in the daily offices and an epistle and gospel for communion, along with a starred Old Testament lesson for each Sunday. This provides opportunity for meditation on the thematic connection between the lessons. This also provides opportunity to reflect on how each Sunday’s lessons connect with those for the previous or subsequent Sundays in a season.

B. The Parable of the Wedding Feast and the Parable of the Great Supper (Trinity 2).

1. Today’s gospel, the Parable of the Wedding Feast, calls to mind a Parable from the Second Sunday after Trinity, the Parable of the Great Supper (Luke 14:16f.). In both lessons there is a man who makes a feast and invites people. In both lessons the invited guests refuse to come; in both the invited guests end up being disinvited, and the host invites other people to replace them.

2. However, there is a significant distinction. The Parable of the Great Supper stresses evangelism with regard to the newly invited—“Go out into the highways and hedges and compel them to come in” (Luke 14:23). The Parable of the Wedding Feast emphasizes judgment—“Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?” It is thematically significant that the evangelical parable comes at the beginning of Trinity and the judgment parable comes towards the end.

3. Both parables deal with the same basic theme. The people of Israel were God’s covenant people and were the invited guests. However, when Jesus and the apostles called them to repent and believe in the Messiah, and, thus, fulfill the covenant, they refused. So, God invited other guests—non-observant Jews, Samaritans and Gentiles—to take their place.

4. The Parable of the Great Supper ends with that initial shift in the constituency of the kingdom. Membership in God’s covenant people is now open to all. The Parable of the Wedding Feast moves forward. It provides an assessment of God’s new covenant people. It lets us know that just as God’s old covenant people were judged in terms of their faithfulness to the covenant and their response to God’s call, so God’s new covenant people—you and me—will also be judged by our faithfulness and our response.

C. The Man without a Wedding Garment

1. In the parable, the king who made a marriage for his son came into the party and surveyed the guests. He found one not properly clothed and summarily cast him into “outer darkness.” In essence, he treated this unfaithful new covenant representative in the same way he treated the old covenant unfaithful.

2. We might envision the scene in the manner. We are gathered around the altar for the Eucharist and, suddenly, instead of the sacramental Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus himself appears in person and looks us all over. This would put a whole new spin on what it means to be properly dressed for church! But, of course, this is simply what we believe will happen. Someday, sacrament, sign and symbol will give way to the realities they represent. If we understand this, then our whole practice of the faith will be a systematic and habitual preparation for that day.

3. So, just what is the wedding garment? Though it has been the subject of no small debate historically, the general framework of the answer seems obvious. Last week’s epistle spoke of baptism in terms of “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new man. Baptism is associated with a change of clothes; taking off the old garment of sin and putting on the new garment of holiness and righteousness. This is reflected in Revelation 7:14, which says of the redeemed that they “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb.”

4. Thus, the man without a wedding garment was someone who had been baptized and was an occasional—or maybe even a regular—attendee at church. But he never embraced or lived out his baptismal identity. He was not in the habit of putting off the old man through confession and putting on the new man through forgiveness, good works and virtue of charity. This man illustrates that God is just as unhappy with the unfaithful baptized as he was with the unfaithful circumcised.

D. Trinity 2, Trinity 20 and the Epistle

1. The prayer book places these two great lessons about the invitation to the feast at the two ends of Trinity season. The Parable of the Great Supper comes as the beginning, proclaiming that we are all freely invited to come. The Parable of the Wedding Feast comes towards the end, reminding us that if we come, we must come fully.

2. This highlights two aspects of being called by Christ; what Martin Thornton calls, “succor and demand.” On the one hand, “Come to me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). On the other hand, he who “does not forsake all the he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). This is illustrated in the Eucharist. We attracted by the grace and succor of the Sacrament. But, as we come to Christ here, we realize that we are being offered on the altar along with Christ. Our coming to him requires the sacrifice of self, soul and body.

3. Our lessons today remind that we must take this all seriously. We are not merely “going to church,” and the purpose of being here is not merely to make ourselves feel good. Rather, the kingdom of God is already present in and among us through the Spirit. Here the Spirit speaks to us through the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The Spirit calls and requires us to respond to the invitation to repent and change. It is our vocation, as baptized Christians, to habitually listen to what God says to us, day by day and week by week and allow God’s grace to change us into new people who live in a new way.

4. Our epistle exhorts us, “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools by as wise, redeeming the time because the days are evil.” In new time of the kingdom, today is the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day points us forward to the Day of the Lord. Now our sinful bodies are made clean and our souls washed through a gradual process. Then we will be changed in a moment, “in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52), when we see Christ in person. Therefore, let us be faithful in the life of prayer, in putting off the old and putting on the new so that we may be properly dressed when the king arrives.

Download this sermon.

Nineteenth Sunday After Trinity 2013 – Sermon

A. Forgiveness and healing, the gospel

1. Today’s lessons connect forgiveness with healing. The paralyzed man in the gospel was able to “rise and walk” because his sins were forgiven. This reflects the larger biblical perspective that all sickness results, ultimately, from the fall, or sin, of man. Therefore, the healing of the body must begin with forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

2. One might then ask: If sickness results from sin, why doesn’t all of our sickness go away once our sins are forgiven in Christ? Forgiveness of sins does promise us complete restoration of bodily health in the resurrection. That is why we “look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” However, in this life, as St. Paul says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). We bear the glory of God in weak and mortal bodies, and, as with Christ, bodily death is a necessary stop on the pathway to resurrection.

3. The healing we experience in this life (through prayer, and the sacrament of Unction) is a taste in the present moment of our future resurrection glory—just Communion is a present taste of the future heavenly banquet. Even when unction does not result in complete physical healing, unction still “works”; it sanctifies our suffering by connecting it to our future hope.

4. God grants healing miracles for two basic reasons. They are signs of God’s presence and power that bear witness to the truth of the gospel, and they are God’s mercy towards those who suffer. When God does not answer the prayer for healing, the affliction becomes a means to further our growth in holiness. As God said to St. Paul when Paul’s prayer for healing was not answered, “My strength is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).

B. Forgiveness and healing, the epistle

1. The epistle also connects healing and forgiveness, but in a slightly different way. It exhorts us to “put off” the “old man” and “put on” the “new man.”  This “getting dressed” language is a reference to baptism. In the early church people disrobed before entering the baptismal water and put on a new garment afterwards. The epistle is, thus, an exhortation to live in the light of our baptism.

2. The epistle contrasts the behavior of the old man with the behavior of the new man: don’t lie, but speak the truth; don’t let anger get the best of you, but reconcile before the day is over; don’t steal, but engage in honest labor so that will enable you to give; don’t have a foul mouth, but let your words be helpful to those who hear you. Put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking; instead, be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving—as you have been forgiven by God.

3. The gospel provides a useful image for understanding this behavioral change. The behavior of the old man is a kind of paralysis that results from sin. We cannot walk or live as we ought because we are captive to sin and sinful patterns of behavior. As we experience forgiveness, we are able to rise up and walk or live in a new way. We are free to serve God. We are free to love.

C. The renewal of the mind

1. For both the old and the new man, behavior is the outward manifestation of one’s inward state of mind. The old man had his “understanding darkened” because he was alienated from the life of God through ignorance, and he behaved accordingly.

2. Consequently, to put on the new man we must be “renewed in the spirit of [our] minds.” Darkened understanding and ignorance must be overcome by the revelation of Jesus Christ that is received through repentance and faith. This is crucial. It is only because we have to come to know God—because our minds have been opened to see the reality of the kingdom with all its implications—that our behavior begins to change. Outward behavioral change is dependent upon the inward renewal of the mind.

3. If our minds are not renewed, the behavioral change will be temporary, sporadic or incomplete. We may stop doing things for external reasons, because we want people to think we are good or because there is some negative consequence to getting caught. If our motive for good behavior is external, we will only behave well when that external motivator is present. Our internal motive for doing what is right can also be faulty. There are many religious people who are motived not by the love of God and the desire to please him, but, rather, by a sense of guilt, shame or fear.

4. This is why the renewing of our minds is the biggest challenge in the life of prayer. The problem is that, at some hidden level, most of don’t fully believe the gospel. Yes, we recite the creed, say “amen” and make the sign of the cross; yes, we receive the promise of forgiveness and the Body and Blood of our Lord. But at some inner place the yes is punctuated by a “but.”

5. Thus, a person will receive the sacrament—the sign of God’s favor and the statement of the value he places on us—then go back into the world and are struggle with feelings of being worthless. The world, the flesh and the devil conspire against the truth of God, the feelings of being worthless return and worthless behavior results.

6. This can also happen in the other direction. As we kneel before the altar, we learn a proper sense of humility. We learn to be thankful and generous rather than proud and arrogant. But, as we resume life in the world, our enemies again tempt us to overvalue ourselves on the basis of worldly standards like wealth or appearance, and not on the basis of faithfulness and virtue.

7. The Christian life, the life of prayer, is a continual struggle to fully integrate our Christian identity into all areas of our life. When we remember who we are by virtue of our baptisms, when we remember that our sins are forgiven, the Holy Spirit lives in us and our destiny is resurrection and life, we are set free to rise and walk in a new way. But when we forget who we are, the gifts we’ve been given and the goal of life, we drift back into a manner of life that is lived only in the flesh and only for the things of this world.

D. Conclusion.

1.  This is why the epistle exhorts to continually put off the old man and put on the new.  The change that begins in baptism will not be completed in one grand moment of resolve; rather, our Christian identity takes ever deeper root through habitual acts of remembrance over time. Thus, we gather each Sunday to remember again who we are; to put off the old man by confessing our sins and offering ourselves to God in union with Christ; and put on the new man by receiving again the promise of forgiveness and the grace of new life in the Sacrament. We practice daily prayer because we need to remember who we are every day. Every day we need to put off the old man through confession and put on the new man through a renewed experience of forgiveness. Over time, through habitual remembrance, we become more and more acclimated to our new clothes.

2. In this life, we will always need to be exhorted to remember who we are “in Christ” and act accordingly. Thus, Jesus says to each of us again today, “Your sins are forgiven…Rise and walk.”

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