St. John’s Feast

Notes for a Sermon for St John the Evangelist, December 27, 2015
The Epistle, 1 John 1:1-8 – The Gospel, St. John 19:21-25
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett

A. The identity of St. John
1. St. John’s identity. Brother of James, the sons of Zebedee. The tradition is that he wrote John’s Gospel, 1, 2, and 3 John and Revelation. Though some dispute this, the common themes of these writings make a strong for unity of authorship—in my opinion. Died a natural death in AD 90’s.
2. St. John in Ephesus. At the cross, Jesus committed his mother to John’s care. The tradition is that John took Mary to Ephesus with him. Acts describes St. Paul’s work in Ephesus. After Paul’s martyrdom in the late 60’s, John would become the undisputed leader of the Ephesian Christians.
B. St. John and the Incarnation
1. The feast of St. John complements Christmas because St. John emphasizes the Incarnation, God becoming man, in his writings.
a. John 1:1. The Christmas Day Gospel highlight the right doctrine concerning the divinity of Christ: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
b. John also emphasizes the genuine humanity of Christ. From John 1: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Today’s epistle mentions his divinity and highlights the physical humanity: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life” (1 Jn. 1:1).
C. St. John and the Gnostic heresy
1. St. John wrote in opposition to the “gnostic” heresy—from the word for knowledge. Gnostics believed that we are saved by secret knowledge or “gnosis.” Gnostics believed in:
a. The separation of spirit from body; salvation was spiritual; to be saved from the body.
b. That behavior in the body could be disconnected from belief. Rigorist and libertine Gnostics.
2. The epistle can understood fully only against this backdrop.
a. “What we have seen, looked at, touched, handled.” Insistence that Jesus is Incarnate. The connection of this to the Sacraments. The Sacraments are the extension of the Incarnation to us.
b. “If we say that we have fellowship with him and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not practice the truth.” Insistence that how we live in the body reflects our belief in Jesus.
D. Applying the message of St. John to our lives
1. Believing the physical reality of the Incarnation—not a spiritualized Christ. In the Sacrament, we also see with our eyes and look upon him. Our hands also handle him who is from the beginning.
2. The evidence of our faith: a life of prayer resulting in changed behavior in a community where we experience forgiveness and grace. “If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 Jn. 1:7).

24th Sunday in Trinity

 

A. The church year and formation through the liturgy

1. Liturgical worship forms us spiritually by our participation in it over time. This process of formation can be undermined by focusing too much on how we feel about it. People will say, “I didn’t feel anything,” or, “I didn’t get anything out of it,” or, conversely, they will have a good experience on a particular day, and offer a positive assessment.

2. The measure of spiritual growth and maturity is not our tastes and opinions, but how we respond to things, especially when we don’t like them. If I am cranky about music or a sermon, how do I respond? Do I make an attempt to understand? Am I glad that others who did like it are happy that day? Or do I allow my subjective tastes to make me a grumbler?

3. Good feeling feelings also present spiritual danger. They may create a need for euphoria that cannot be sustained—and, thus, lead to greater crankiness the next time I don’t like something. The lesson of crankiness, in liturgy and in life, is to learn to be more patient and virtuous, and to learn to think about others, not just ourselves. The lesson of good feelings is to learn to give thanks to God for them, but also to learn not to depend upon them.

B. How to approach liturgical themes

1. We revisit certain epistles and gospels each year on given Sundays. Each year is opportunity to hear them in new ways. The lessons are embedded in a tapestry of chants and choral music that draw out the themes of the day. I’ve been at this for about thirty five years, and I find new treasures as I dig more deeply into the same old liturgy every year. We are fortunate to have an organist choirmaster who pays great attention to the themes of the day and season, and chooses texts and tunes carefully to highlight and expand on them.

2. We will become better worshipers if we change our question, from, “How do I feel about this?” To, “What is this saying to me?” In the liturgy, there is a rich array of things that can speak to us. But we must attend to them in order to receive the benefit. This is why the consumer culture is a bad training ground for worship. It teaches us to be shoppers rather than God-seekers, and teaches us a very limiting reliance on feelings, comfort and pleasure.

3. Spiritual formation takes place through what we habitually do over long periods of time. Our actions form our feelings. When we do what is right, we learn to feel the right way. The root of human disorder is letting our feelings lead us to do wrong things. Liturgy means literally, “the work of the people.” As we do this work, we should pay attention to the larger eternal themes that are presented to us, and focus on responding to them in the right way. This is how we learn to become worshipers of God rather than merely religious consumers.

C. End of year themes

1. One theme that appears at this time of year in our liturgies is the theme of exile and return. At Morning Prayer we read through the Old Testament history. At the end of Trinity season, we come to the Babylonian captivity of Israel. God made a covenant with Israel and gave Israel the Promised Land. When Israel was unfaithful to the covenant, God kicked Israel out of the land and sent the nation into captivity in Babylon (modern Iraq).

2. The exile to Babylon reversed the biblical history. God called Abraham out of Babylon, led him to the Promised Land, and gave that land to his descendants. Some fourteen hundred years later, his unfaithful descendants were sent back to where Abraham began. Exile is a biblical theme. Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden. David was exiled from his kingship. Sin separates us from God. Geographic distance from land, garden and temple represents the spiritual distance between God and sinful humanity.

3. We can see the theme of exile in today’s gospel. The bleeding woman was unclean according the Torah. This meant she was exiled from the community and from God, The daughter of the synagogue ruler was exiled from family and community by death. The healing and the resurrection were both a means of return from exile.

4. God promises us a way of return from our exile. The blessed state of God’s people at the end of the Bible in Revelation bears striking resemblance to Eden, from which God’s people were exiled in Genesis. God’s exiled people are restored to his presence and eat the fruit of the tree of life, which heals the wounds of sin. When Israel went into captivity in Babylon, God promised to bring his people back. This is the theme of the Introit (the choir chant at the beginning of the liturgy) for the final Sundays in Trinity season. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah,

Thus saith the Lord, I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction; ye shall call upon me, and I will hearken unto you, and will bring again your captivity from every nation (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

D. The theme of exile and return in our lives

1. Exile and return are central themes of the life of prayer. The world, the flesh and the devil draw us away from God; when we give into temptation we experience exile or distance from God. God calls us back to himself through prayer, and restores us to communion through confession and forgiveness. We drift away from God’s presence, but we return to God at the altar. We eat again of the tree of life, and the wounds of our sin are healed.

2. This is a seasonal cycle. After Easter and Pentecost, we enter into the long, green Trinity season during which we invariably experience spiritual drift and malaise, and fall into some bad habits. As we come to the end of this season, God calls us back—“I know the thoughts that I think toward you, thoughts of peace, and not of affliction; ye shall call upon me, and I will hearken unto you, and will bring again your captivity from every nation.”

3. Today is last numbered Sunday after Trinity. Next Sunday is the “The Sunday Next before Advent.” Then comes Advent, the season that gets us ready both for the Incarnation and the end of time. This time of year calls to get ready to get ready for the coming of Christ.

4. The theme of exile and return is a good framework for our preparation. How have you drifted away from God’s presence? What sins have you committed? What relationships need to be healed? How is your life of prayer? What bad habits have you fallen into that need to give way to new and faithful disciplines? God calls you back from your exile. God’s thoughts toward you are thoughts of peace and not of affliction. Call upon him and he will answer you. He will save you from your captivity to sin and selfishness, and bring you back into his presence. He will restore your relationships, and feed you with the Bread of Life.

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23rd Sunday in Trinity

 

A.  The Epistle, Gospel and citizenship

“Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we eagerly wait for the Savior” (from the epistle).

1. The lessons focus on what it means to be citizens of the kingdom of God, and how this heavenly citizenship relates to the temporary political arrangements of this world. The epistle was written to Christians in the city of Philippi. Philippi was a Roman military colony, full of retired and proud soldiers. An air of Roman patriotism filled the city. The various Caesars had been given the title, “savior of the world” because of the relative peace that prevailed under their rule. Against, this background, St. Paul is reminding the Philippian Christians that there are citizens of another country who are waiting for the true savior of the world to come.

2. While St. Paul confronted Roman patriotism, Jesus spoke to a Jewish audience that was more hostile to Caesar. The test about taxes was meant to create a dilemma. If Jesus said it was okay to pay taxes, he would be seen as legitimizing the despised Roman rule. If he said it was not okay to pay taxes to Rome, he would risk arrest as a political agitator. His answer put the two kingdoms in their proper perspective. The coin bore Caesar’s image and likeness. Thus, it is right to give it to Caesar to pay taxes. But human beings bear the image and likeness of God. Thus, it is right to give our entire selves, souls and bodies to God in worship and service. The early Christians paid taxes, but when Caesar demanded worship they refused and chose martyrdom instead.

3. We are familiar with the two passions our lessons aim at. Americans are patriotic, but we also have a history of hostility towards paying taxes to oppressive governments. The danger is the same in both instances. Too much focus either on our positive attachment to the current regime or on our passionate opposition to it takes our focus away from our primary allegiance to the kingdom God.

4. We are not dual citizens in the kingdom of God and the city of man. The Bible describes us as “strangers and pilgrims,” resident aliens in the world (1 Peter 2:11). The Bible exhorts us to be exemplary resident aliens. As St. Peter writes, “Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord’s sake” (1 Peter 2:13, emphasis added). We are ambassadors for the kingdom of God. We called to represent our homeland well as a matter of foreign policy. But this is not our native country.

B. The difficulty and opportunity for Christians in America.

1. Historically, America has been a comfortable place for Christians. It’s hard to act as strangers and pilgrims when one feels very much at home. This is changing because the moral framework we inherited from the past is giving way to a new and constantly changing moral order. Many Christians feel a sense of angst or anger as they try to figure out how to live in the new, less friendly world.

2. We can discern our future vocation by facing a sobering fact about the past. The decline of Christian influence is a consequence of how comfortable the church has been in the world. We have lived as citizens of earth rather than as citizens of God’s kingdom. Rather than confronting the world with the presence of Christ, the church has come to look more like the world. Thus, the proper response to our new situation is not angst, anger or a desire to return to some former glory. The proper response is repentance and a renewed commitment to being citizens of the heavenly kingdom.

3. Our current situation presents an opportunity to embrace the biblical model of being resident aliens in this world. The church does not fare well when it enjoys political power. As a persecuted minority, the church must depend upon God and turn to him constantly in prayer. When the church gains political power, it tends to shift its focus towards temporal goals; it depends more on politics than on God. This is precisely what St. Paul is warning against. He is saying, “We are not citizens of earth looking for Caesar to save us or give us benefits. We are citizens of the heavenly city, eagerly waiting for our savior to come and complete his work in us.”

4. When we take our eyes off of Christ and the promise of his coming, eternal goals are replaced with temporal ones. Thus, for the last few generations, cutting edge Christianity has been eager to show how the kingdom of God can have a positive, practical impact on this world. The result of this earthbound focus is that Christian faith has not had much impact at all—or it has been seen as failure because it did not produce some desired, temporal result.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you will get neither” (Mere Christianity, 134)

C. The kingdom of God and the interior life

1. The failed secularized and politicized Christianity is preoccupied with problems “out there.” Thus, there is a constant push for some new system, or some new law, or some new candidate that will bring the desired change. However, our faith teaches us that the root problem is not “out there;” the root problem is inside each of us. As Jesus said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matt. 15:19). Unless we deal with our interior problem of sin first, we possess nothing and have nothing to offer to the world.

2. This does not mean to put our heads in the sand with regard to the problems in the world. You have a vocation to represent Christ as an ambassador in your home, in your work, in your politics and in your leisure. But you can only represent Christ if you know him and live in relationship with him. You can only be a good ambassador if the goals of being a faithful witness for Christ and working for the larger concerns of the kingdom of God transcend all of your temporal goals. If your advocacy for some temporal cause is characterized by anger and hatred; if you will compromise your faith to achieve some political goal in time, your faith will have no impact on the world—or its impact will be negative.

4. God is changing the world from the bottom up and from the inside out. His work began with one man born in Bethlehem and spread outward from there. It continues in each of our lives through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ lives in each of us, and he is working to change us into his image. When his work is done, we will be like Christ. We will live as God’s new people, in new and glorified bodies, in God’s new creation. This is the answer to the problems of this fallen world. This is what we bear witness to. Whatever we do in time in this world must reflect this overarching hope. As St. Paul reminds us,

Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.

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All Saints

Notes for a Sermon on the Feast of All Saints, Given on November 1, 2015
The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett
For The Epistle, Revelation 7:1-17 – The Gospel, St. Matthew 5:1-12

A. The beatitudes and neediness

1. “The Beatitudes” in today’s gospel are confusing at first. They proclaim people to blessed or happy whose condition is not blessed or happy. The beatitudes only make sense when we see how the condition that seems undesirable leads to a state of blessedness.

2. The connection is made in our lessons. The lesson from Revelation shows the blessed state of those who suffer for the sake of righteousness: “He who sits on the throne will dwell among them. They shall neither hunger anymore nor thirst anymore…And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17).

3. Thus, the poor in spirit, the mourners, and the meek are blessed because their condition of poverty turns them towards God. They ask God for forgiveness, salvation and cleansing. And God answers their prayers.

4. This stands in contrast with the spiritually proud who think they don’t need God, and those who do not mourn because they have no sadness in this world. They are not blessed because their current state, which seems to be fortunate, keeps them separate them from God and leaves them spiritually empty. As Jesus said, “Woe to you who are full, for you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” (Luke 6:25).

B. The blessedness of the redeemed is not only in the future

1. Jesus is not only promising future blessings for the poor in spirit and the mourners, for Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand” (Matthews 4:17). While the fullness of our reward will be experienced in the Resurrection on the Last Day, we enter the kingdom of God through faith in Jesus Christ now.

2. The Beatitudes aim at the current separation of the kingdom of God from life in this world. Our condition of sin is precisely that we can be full of created possessions and pleasures while also being separated and alienated from God. This is why it is good to be dissatisfied with life in this world. When dissatisfaction leads us to turn from sin and put our faith in Jesus Christ, we begin to live in the kingdom of God now, and we begin to experience God’s blessings now. Our life in the body in this world is brought into the kingdom, and the kingdom of God enters the world through God’s presence in us.

3. The image of the redeemed in the lesson from Revelation is not primarily an image of the future. It is an image of our relationship with God in Christ now. Genesis describes how humanity was exiled from God’s presence though sin (Genesis 3:23-24). Revelation describes how we have been restored to God’s presence through the blood of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins.

4. The scene in Revelation is an image of worship. As we gather to worship God “in Christ,” we become part of the multitude that no one can number. We have been redeemed from all nations and have access to God through prayer. This status is expressed most fully in the Eucharist, but this is our constant relationship to God in Christ through the Spirit (see Ephesians 2:4-6). As we live the life of prayer, as we pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 4:17), we receive heavenly treasure, and the comfort of the Spirit, and the Bread of Life that satisfies us always.

C. Our own poverty and mourning as a condition of blessing

1. Though we live in union with the Father through the Son in the Spirit, though we are “seated in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 2:6), we tend to take our eyes off of Jesus and become pre-occupied with the physical and temporal concerns of life. Thus, it is a good and blessed thing when our circumstances remind us of our spiritual poverty. When we experience loss, disappointment and disillusionment; when we go through trial and sickness, and when we face the unavoidable fact of our mortality, we are detached us from the merely physical and temporal and led back to Christ. Thus, need and trial become sources of blessing.

2. When we face trials, we tend to pray for physical relief or some temporal goal. It is okay to pray for these things because we live in the world and we have real needs. However, as we grow in spiritual maturity we will learn to focus more on what God is doing in and through the challenges we face in this world: “What is God doing in my life through this trial?” “How is my current poverty leading me to a greater experience of God’s kingdom?” “How is my current mourning leading me to a greater experience of God’s comfort?” The overarching purpose of our trials is to detach us from the world, purify our hearts, and cultivate in us a desire for God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness (c.f. Matthew 6:31-33).

D. We are called to be saints

1. Today is All Saints Day. A saint is a “holy” one. We are holy because God has given us his Holy Spirit. We become holy as the Holy Spirit works in us to make us holy through our trials. We call certain Christians “saints” because they are notable examples of holiness. All Saints Day celebrates the unknown saints, the ones who do not have a day on the calendar. The distinction between saints and other Christians is, ultimately, a false distinction. The saints are ahead of us, but we are called to be holy like them (see Hebrews 12:14)—and we should want to be one too (Hymn 243).

2. Holiness is produced through trial rather than through prosperity and success. As the epistle says, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Each of us is a part of this great multitude. This is both our current status and our future destiny. Let us, therefore, learn to live as those who are called to be saints (c.f. Romans 1:7). Let us learn to turn to God in our poverty and in our mourning. Let us learn to persevere in our tribulation. Let us wash our robes and make them white in the blood of the Lamb. Then we will be blessed, for God will dwell with us, and guide us, and feed us, and wipe every tear from our eyes. We will live in God’s kingdom now, as we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.

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21st Sunday in Trinity

A Sermon on the Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, October 25, 2015

The Rt. Rev’d Stephen C. Scarlett

The Epistle, Ephesians 6:10-20 – The Gospel, St. John 4:46-54

“We wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers…” (From the epistle).

A.  The visible battle and the invisible battle.

1. In the epistle, St. Paul tells us that the real contest in life is not the visible battle—the outward and obvious details and enemies; the real contest is the invisible, spiritual battle—the way our spiritual enemies use the visible battle to undermine our faith. St. Paul spent much of his life losing the visible battle. He faced frequent opposition, spent much time in jail, and was killed for his faith. His struggles taught him that victory in the spiritual battle did not depend upon victory in the battle against flesh and blood. He learned that outward struggles can produce inward holiness, and outward success can lead to spiritual harm.

2. Our flesh and blood battles consist of striving to succeed in work, be good parents, pursue relationships, and achieve various goals. The spiritual battle is the way the world, the flesh and the devil work through these visible battles to draw us away from faith. For example, a person may be striving to attain a higher positon at work. That is the visible battle. As advancement is pursued, there are temptations to be envious and jealous of co-workers and to covet what other people have. That is the invisible, spiritual battle. A parent may strive to help a child achieve good grades in school or success in sports or extracurricular activities. That is the visible battle. As these things are sought, there are temptations to compete with other parents and their children, to try to control and manipulate environments to ensure success at the expense of others, and to place the goals of academic and extracurricular achievement above faithfulness to Christ and character development.

3. If we are not aware of the invisible battle and fight only for the visible success, we may achieve great things but end up thoroughly defeated.  This is what Jesus meant when he said,

What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done” (Matt. 16:26-27).

In this passage Jesus points us to the final judgment. This is the proper focus of all striving in the Christian life. Our goal is to be able to stand blameless before Christ on that day. Our temporal goals must always be subject to that overarching goal. When the world offers us something in exchange for unfaithfulness, this is a test in the spiritual battle.

B. The art of wrestling and the goal of standing

1. The teaching of the epistle is rooting in the image of wrestling. In wrestling, the goal is to get one’s opponent off his feet and pin him to the ground. We wrestle against the principalities and powers in that they trying to knock us off our feet and render us ineffective in the kingdom. In this wrestling contest, it is our goal to remain standing.

2. We do not have to defeat the principalities and powers. Jesus did that on the cross. As Colossians says, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them” (2:15). We share in his victory in baptism through faith. We who were dead in our sins have been raised to new life through faith. In Christ, we stand. The goal of the spiritual battle is to remain standing, to not allow the principalities and powers to knock us down and pin us.

C. Putting on the armor of God

1. The armor and weaponry in the epistle represent components of the spiritual life. It is likely that St. Paul drew his imagery from two sources. The first source is Isaiah 59, which says, “He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on His head” (59:17). The second source was the soldier standing guard over him. St. Paul was in jail when he wrote Ephesians. It is likely that his meditation on the spiritual battle connected the soldier in front of him with Isaiah 59.

2. St. Paul tells us to “take up” the whole armor of God. The faithful soldier puts on his armor again each day to prepare himself for the dangers of that day. If he takes his armor off to sleep but does not put it back on the next day, he will be vulnerable to attack.

3. Through our daily disciplines of prayer, we arm ourselves for battle each day. Through prayer we experience again each day our union with God in Christ through the Spirit. We cry “Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15). We remember that we are the children of God and that our sins are forgiven. This guards our head and our heart from debilitating feelings of guilt, shame and fear that come from our enemy. By our daily reading of Holy Scripture, and by meditating on its teaching, we gird our minds and heart with the truth. Biblical truth is a weapon with which we combat the lies we are told by the world. By learning to pray without ceasing, we learn to take refuge behind the shield of faith when we are subject to sudden attack.

4. The epistle talks about having “our feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” I think St. Paul had in mind Isaiah 52:7:

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!” (Isaiah 52:7).

We cannot win a purely defensive battle. We begin to conquer when we learn to go on the offensive through the purposeful and consistent practice of Christ-like virtues. We disarm the enemy when we respond to hate with love; when others attack us and we find the strength in Christ to pray for them and do good things for them—just as Jesus died for the very people who killed him. Does your presence announce the gospel to those you see every day? Do you help others experience Christ through their encounters with you? Are your feet beautiful?

D. Conclusion

We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

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St. Luke the Evangelist (Trinity 20)

 

A. Background on Luke. St. Luke was a doctor and traveling companion of St. Paul. He is the second most prolific New Testament writer. St. Luke’s Gospel and its sequel, The Acts of the Apostles, are second only in length to the writings of St. Paul. It is traditionally believed that St. Luke was a Gentile, which would make him the only Gentile New Testament author, but this is not certain. It is possible that he was a “hellenized” or Greek speaking Jew. There is an early tradition that St. Luke was one of the seventy others sent out by Jesus, which is why this is the gospel for St. Luke’s Day.

B. Demas and Luke

1. The only mention of Luke in our lessons is when St. Paul says, “Only Luke is with me.” St. Luke’s presence is in contrast with Demas, who “has forsaken me, having loved this present world.” The other two people mentioned, Crescens and Titus, have also departed. However, they seem to have left for the purposes of mission. In any event, others have left and “Only Luke is with me.”

2. Demas is mentioned in a couple of other New Testament passages. His name is always next to Luke’s. In Colossians, St. Paul writes, “Luke the beloved physician and Demas greet you” (Col. 4:14). In Philemon St. Paul passes along greetings from Luke and Demas, whom he calls “my fellow laborers” (24). Demas had worked for a long time with St. Paul, but chose to abandon his post.

3. It would be pastorally instructive to have more details. What led Demas to forsake Paul? Had the apostolic work become too arduous? Did Demas and Paul have an argument that led Demas to storm off in anger? Had Demas developed doubts about the faith? In any event, this longtime co-worker had left, and St. Paul felt the sting of abandonment. However, Luke had remained faithful.

C. The challenges of ministry and comfort of faithful co-workers

1. It is easy to romanticize mission work. We know about St. Paul’s ministry from Acts and his own letters. These focus on significant moments and themes of his ministry, and tend to obscure just how much of his ministry involved tedious travel, rejection and discomfort. Even when St. Paul describes his hardships, they sound more glorious in writing than they were in experience (c.f. 2 Corinthian 11:23-29).

2. All genuine Christian ministry has two characteristics. First it leads to lives that are changed by God’s grace. Two, it proves itself through suffering and perseverance. These two characteristics are related. Lives are changed by God’s grace only as we persevere faithfully through trial. It is our sharing in the cross itself that forms us in the image of Christ. Our attempts to avoid the cross stunt our growth and handicap our ministry.

3. As we persevere in the faith there is an irreplaceable value to those who endure with us. In Philippians, St. Paul speaks of “the fellowship of [Christ’s] sufferings” (3:10). This fellowship is both our union with Christ in his cross, and also our union with each other in the Christian vocation. Our koinonia, our communion, is rooted in an understanding that we are fighting a common battle together against the world, the flesh and the devil.

4. The Body of Christ is weakened when any member gives up the fight. The church is counting on you to persevere in the life of prayer, to be obedient to Christ through difficult times, and to get up if you fall down. “We are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25) and we will feel a sting every time a member of the body decides to quit. The sting is greater the closer the person is to us.

C. Our experience at St. Matthew’s.

1. This month marks my twenty-nine year anniversary at St. Matthew’s. Time makes one acutely aware of the priceless value of those who are faithful over long periods of time. People ask, “What can I do for the church?” This question aims at some project that will make an impact now. This impulse is heightened in a culture that focuses on excitement and buzz. What the church really needs is ordinary faithfulness. What can you do for the church? “Follow Christ, worship God every Sunday in his church; work and pray and give for spread of his kingdom” (BCP 292). Man your post, discover your gifts and use them in some consistent way for a decade—for starters. Then we can begin to build something.

2. We can see this in the examples of Luke and Demas. Luke is “St. Luke, the beloved physician,” whose faithfulness helped build churches produced two glorious writings. If Demas has not given in to, anger, discouragement, or disappointment, it is possible that we might celebrate “St” Demas and his contributions to the church as well—but his short term impact had disappeared when he quit.

On the virtues of stability and faithfulness

1. We are talking here about two related virtues; stability and faithfulness. The virtue of stability means to stay in the same place. In Luke’s case it was to stay with the same mobile mission. The virtue can be understood in terms of agricultural. Plants don’t grow very well when they are continually uprooted and replanted in new places. The fruit and foliage visible above the ground mirrors the depth and strength of the root system below. Instability and rootlessness lead to a lack of fruit.

2. Stability is related to faithfulness. One can be stable but unfaithful. Like the bad tooth that causes pain, or the weed in the garden that keeps coming back no matter how many times you pull it up, there is the person who is stable, but toxic. We are called to be stable and faithful. Jesus said, “He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). This is not merely an individual, spiritual abiding. To abide in Christ is to abide faithfully in his Body the Church in a given place over time.

3. Instability and unfaithfulness are characteristics of our time. People move quickly from one job to another, from one product to another, from one relationship to another, and from one church to another. These are not all equivalent. The current job environment often requires a certain mobility. But the tendency creates an overall restlessness; people are continually looking for some new and better place or thing. If this restlessness governs our faith, it make us unreliable, unhelpful and unfruitful.

4. “Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world…Luke, alone, is with me.” The faithfulness of Luke calls to mind the words of Jesus that Luke himself records, “You are those who have continued with me in my trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon me, that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom” (Luke 22:28-30). Let us follow the example of St. Luke, the beloved physician and faithful co-worker. Let us continue with Jesus and with each other in our trials, in stability and faithfulness, so that we that we may produce much fruit in our life together, and so that we may eat and drink together with Jesus in his kingdom.

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