feasts

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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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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The Feast of St. Matthew

A. Why we can’t see God 

From the Epistle: “Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

1. We don’t always see God clearly. Ephesians tells us that the love of God is beyond human comprehension (3:19); it follows that we will not be able to fully understand God at first, second or third glance. Picture day one of man’s creation; at some point this intelligent being, made in God’s image, first encountered God. He could not fully understand what he saw. This was the beginning of a long process of revelation.

2. Evil and sin blur our vision. An innocent being, unfettered by temptation without and sin within, won’t fully understand God; but his vision will not be artificially obscured. Evil and sin cloud innocent vision with doubt and distrust. The tempter clouded the vision of the first humans by lying, charging God with false motives and appealing to their vanity. As we sin habitually this external cloud becomes an internal defect of sight. Thus, Ephesians describes those who do not know God as “having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (4:18).

3. People complain that God does not reveal himself. If there is a God why doesn’t he just speak openly and clearly so that people will be compelled to believe in him? The biblical answer is that he does reveal himself openly and clearly. The problem is that people are spiritually blind so that they cannot see. As Romans 1:20 says, “Since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.”

B. How our blindness is healed

1. Spiritual blindness is healed through faith and the gift of the Holy Spirit. When we turn away from sin and put our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God, we begin to see again. As we grow in grace and virtue, our vision of God becomes clearer; as Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8).

2. Faith in Jesus Christ does not immediately give us full knowledge of God. Faith restores us to the position of the first humans in the garden. Our sins are forgiven so that we can experience communion with God again. We can eat again of the tree of life. We can live again in God’s presence and talk with him. But we still have a lot to learn. We do not yet fully know God.

3. This is why Jesus tells us that we must become liked children to inherit the kingdom. The child-like trust and dependence that is planted within us by the Spirit must replace the doubt and cynicism that was planted by sin if we want to be able to see. The spiritual battle is a conflict between doubt, fear and despair on the one hand, and faith, trust and hope on the other.

C. Our restored vision is sacramental

1. Our restored vision is sacramental. Spiritual blindness caused by evil and sin leads us to see created things as ends in and of themselves. This leads to idolatry. When we see God and his creation clearly we see not only the outward and visible things, we also perceive the inward and spiritual meaning of those things.

2. Sacramental vision sees God in ordinary things. This is how God normally reveals himself to us—and it answers the objection that God doesn’t reveal himself to people. God’s presence and power are visible everywhere. We can see them in a majestic sunset, in the power and mystery of the ocean and in the grandeur of the sky and stars above. We can see God in our ordinary encounters with people who are made in his image, and in the gift of love and fellowship he gives us in relationships with others. Some protest, “Why doesn’t God show himself?” Wisdom answers, “Why don’t you open your eyes and see?”

3. The sacramental nature of the world is highlighted by the Incarnation. The One “by whom all things were made” became a flesh and blood human being in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. The glory of God was both hidden and revealed in his human body. Many looked at the babe in the manger and did not see that he was the Alpha and Omega of the creation. But others, like the shepherds and the wise men, were given the gift of sight. They saw “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

D. Jesus can only be seen and understood through revelation.

1. We can only see if God restores our vision by revelation. The wise men and shepherds saw because God revealed himself to them. The apostles didn’t fully understand what Jesus was doing until they were given the gift of sight after the resurrection. When Jesus prophesied about his impending death (our gospel for Quinquagesima, Luke 18:32f.)), St. Luke says that the apostles, “Understand none of these things, and this saying was hid from them.”

2. Jesus gave his disciples the gift of sight in his various resurrection appearances. Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener until he called her by her name (John 20:16). Then she saw him. Two disciples walked with Jesus on the Emmaus for, perhaps, seven miles, but they did not recognize Jesus until he was “known to them in the breaking of the bread” (Luke 24:35). The Apostles did not grasp the meaning of the cross until Jesus “opened their understanding that they might comprehend the scriptures” (24:45). St. Paul did not recognize Jesus until Jesus overpowered him on the Damascus road (Acts 9). Jesus gave St. Matthew the gift of sight when he said to him, “Follow me.” Jesus expressed this mystery of revelation in Luke 10:22. 

All things have been delivered to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

E. God’s revelation to us and through us

1. Each of us has been given the gift of sight, which is the gift of faith. The church is the community of people who see. By faith we understand the meaning of the cross. By faith we see the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the ordinary bread and wine of Eucharist. By faith we see the image of Christ in the members of his body.

2. As we go through our daily lives in the world, we see false images—false sacraments—that reveal human pride and arrogance. We see people exalting themselves against God, pursuing pleasure as the goal of life and acting as if there is no God and no judge to whom they will give account—“Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them.”

3. Sometimes the blindness of the world influences us and we are drawn away from faith and back into doubt and even despair. The Christian life requires continual revelation and continual healing of our sight. We gather at the altar of God on the Lord’s Day to restore our vision. Here we see again that Jesus died for our sins on the cross. Here we see again that Jesus is the risen and ascended Lord of all creation. Here we remember again that our sins are forgiven, that we are members incorporate of the Body of Christ and that our destiny is resurrection and life in the world to come. As Jesus said to his disciples, “Blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear” (Matthew13:16).

4. St. Matthew wrote a gospel to show others what had been revealed to him. He invited friends to dinner to introduce them to Jesus so that they could see what he saw. Our ministry follows his example. We invite people to eat with us so that they can see Christ in our midst and know him as we know him. We tell people our stories—how we came to see—so that others can see what we see. Christ has revealed himself to us through the witness of others, and Christ reveals himself to others through our witness. The mission of the church is to be a light to the world that will help the blind to see; for, “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

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Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist 2013 – Sermon

A. The call of Matthew and the initial party

1. The call of St. Matthew to be a disciple is related in two gospels. The account we just read from Matthew’s Gospel contains some ambiguities. It tells us that Jesus said to Matthew, “Follow me,” but it is not clear exactly where they were going. Then it speaks of a meal in “the house” without telling us whose house or the purpose of the meal. The parallel account in Luke’s Gospel fills in the details. In Luke, we discover that Matthew was also known as, “Levi.” St Luke writes,

[Jesus] went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax office. And He said to him, “Follow Me.” So he left all, rose up, and followed Him. Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them. (Luke 5:27-29).

2. St. Luke makes it clear that Matthew or Levi “left all” to follow Jesus. He changed his occupation and lifestyle. St. Luke also makes it clear that “the house” was Matthew’s house and the purpose of the party was a “great feast” put on by Matthew to honor Jesus.

B. Objections to the feast by the Pharisees

1. It is evident from today’s gospel and the subsequent verses in Matthew’s Gospel that many people thought this party was scandalous. The Pharisees though it was scandalous because of the guest list. Many “tax collectors and sinners” were invited and Jesus seemed to have no qualms about this.

2. The title “sinner” refers to “non-observant” Jews. These were not all pimps, prostitutes and drug addicts. Rather, these “sinners” were people who did not habitually follow the teachings of the Torah, the Law of Moses, according the traditions that had developed in the centuries between the Old Testament and the coming of Christ. These traditions later came to be known as the Talmud. These “sinners” weren’t necessarily horrible people. They just didn’t practice their faith in the manner that the religious leaders had determined was necessary to be counted as righteous.

3. According the Pharisees, Israel was divided between the righteous, who observed the Torah by meticulously practicing the tradition, and the sinners who did not. The rest of the world consisted of Samaritans, who were rejected for their impure bloodlines and inauthentic traditions and the Gentiles, who opposed God’s people and would soon be judged by God. To eat with people, in the Jewish mind, was to share a kind of communion and fellowship with them. Thus, Jesus was communing with the very group the Pharisees thought was undermining the hope of Israel.

C. Objections to the feast by the disciples of John

The disciples of John the Baptist also objected to the feast, but for different reasons. In the passage in Matthew just after today’s gospel, the disciples of John said to Jesus, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but your disciples do not fast?” (Mathew 9:14). John the Baptist lived an austere ascetical life, wearing a hair shirt and eating a diet of “locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4). He had baptized Jesus and it was through John’s ministry that Jesus was revealed as the Messiah. John’s followers, who probably lived liked John, were wondering what on earth Jesus was doing partying in the home of a tax collector.

D. The re-definition of God’s people and the presence of the kingdom

1. Jesus offended these two groups for reasons that are rooted in the Incarnation. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel failed to observe the Torah. The point of the Torah was precisely to reveal human sin (Romans 3:20). The Son of God became man to fulfill the Torah on Israel’s behalf. The Torah, The Word of God, was literally been made flesh in the person of Jesus. Thus, membership in Israel is no longer defined by one’s relationship to the written law of the Old Covenant. It is now defined by one’s relationship to Jesus, who has fulfilled the law. Those who heeded the call of Jesus to repent and follow him became the new Israel because they became followers of the new Torah. Those who rejected Jesus, the Torah made flesh, found themselves on the outside.

3. The party at Matthew’s house illustrates this new definition. Those who were formerly thought to be sinners but now followed Jesus became the new people of God, enjoying the new feast of the kingdom. Those who were formerly thought to be “righteous” but rejected the Torah made flesh (like the Pharisees) were now on the outside, excluded from God’s new people and God’s new feast by their lack of faith in God’s Son.

3. The followers of John the Baptist also did not fully understand the Incarnation. John lived austerely because he was waiting for the kingdom. But Jesus said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17). In the person of Jesus, the kingdom was present in Israel. The kingdom was present in Matthew’s house and new members were being added to it. How could the new people of God fast when it was time to celebrate? How could the new people of God fast and mourn when there was joy in the presence of the angels of God? (Luke 15:10).

E. Implications for us.

1. The Eucharist continues the theme Matthew’s party. Jesus calls sinners like us to eat with him. We are part of God’s new people because of our faith in Jesus, not because we zealously observe the Ten Commandments. The focus of our faith is on Christ and what he is doing in us, not on what we have done for him. Holiness and good works are the fruit rather than the cause of our faith.

2. The new people of God have a new attitude towards those who are without. The Pharisees looked for ways to find fault and exclude people. The new people of God focus on mission. They go into all nations to make disciples. They call people into the kingdom rather than defining them out of it. To be sure, not all will continue to follow Jesus anymore than all the guests at Matthew’s house became committed disciples. But Jesus ate with them because he wanted them to become disciples. This is why our ministry focuses on inviting people to social events. We invite other sinners to eat and drink with us because we want them to know Christ as we do.

3. The Incarnation leads to a paradox in our practice of the faith. Because the kingdom of God is present with us right now through the Holy Spirit, we celebrate and have parties. However, because the kingdom of God is not yet fully present, because we still wait for the fullness of that which we now know in part, we also fast. The Christian life, life “in Christ,” is a mixture of feasting and fasting because the kingdom is both already here and also not yet fully here.

D. Today is a day of feasting both because it is our weekly commemoration of the Day of Resurrection and because it is the day we have set aside to honor our patron St. Matthew. There is no better way to honor St. Matthew than to follow his example; to have a great feast to celebrate the life we have in Christ, and invite our friends, and even out enemies, to the feast so that they may also know Christ and become a part of God’s new people

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Transfiguration 2013 – Sermon

A. Baptism, Transfiguration, Trinity and Death

1. The Transfiguration is a significant midsummer feast that we highlight by moving to the following Sunday. It has parallels with the Baptism of Jesus. In both events, the Father speaks, declaring Jesus to be his Son and in both the Spirit descends—as a dove in baptism and here in the cloud. Thus, both reveal God as Trinity. Both events mark a transition. After the Spirit descended in baptism, Jesus went about preaching and teaching in Israel. After the experience of the Spirit in the Transfiguration, Jesus began to prepare to die.

2. The Transfiguration adds a fourth part to the heavenly revelation. The Communion of the Saints is represented by the presence of Moses and Elijah. These two have a specific function here. They represent the law and the prophets, respectively. They talk to Jesus about his “decease” [or death] that he should accomplish as Jerusalem” to show that the cross is in accordance with the law and the prophets. The Greek word for decease is “exodus.” This highlights the cross as the fulfillment of all that Moses accomplished in leading Israel out of Egypt. Jesus will save and redeem Israel from slavery to sin and death through the cross as Moses saved Israel from slavery in the first Exodus.

3. The Transfiguration presents a strange juxtaposition of glory and death. Jesus was transfigured; the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and shiny at the very moment Moses and Elijah told him he must die. Thus, glory and death are linked. It is by the cross that Jesus will be glorified, will glorify the Father and will obtain glory.

B. The temporal experience of glory

1. The glory of the Transfiguration quickly went away. Peter tried to capture the moment by building of tents for Jesus and the two visitors (like the tent that housed the glory of God in the wilderness). This occasioned the Trinitarian revelation. The cloud descended upon them all and God spoke, essentially telling Peter to shut up and listen to Jesus. The luminescent glory was not to be captured. It was a momentary taste of the eternal glory the Son possessed from the beginning with the Father, and would possess again after his death; but the business at hand was to fulfill the vocation of the cross.

2. This is the pattern for our lives of prayer.  We pray to the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are “transfigured”; that is, sometimes we have extraordinary experiences of union with God. However, this ecstatic and glorious aspect of prayer is momentary. We must always return to the realities of daily life in a fallen world.

3. Many misinterpret this to mean that God goes away just when we really need him. The Transfiguration corrects this false view. God gives us a taste of the glory that will be ours for eternity in the resurrection. Then he says, “Now go out and faithfully carry your cross.” If we were always on the mountaintop; if God were always holding our hand, obedience would be easy. God wants us to learn to follow him by acts of the will when his presence is hidden. God want us to develop the spiritual strength to act faithfully when we do not feel like it.

4. We develop this strength through our habits of prayer; through our pattern of withdrawing into prayer and returning to the world to do the work we are called to do. We ascend the mountain to experience union with God and are then sent out to carry our cross. The goal of the life of prayer is the narrow the gap between prayer and life; to cultivate a sense of God’s presence at all times—and not just when we are on the mountain; to, as St. Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

C. The epistle

1. The epistle is St. Peter’s account of the Transfiguration. He tells his readers that he saw the glory of Jesus on the mount and heard the Father’s voice. Peter also tells his readers that he is about to die—“I must shortly put off this my tabernacle.” His purpose in telling them this is so that “after my decease” his readers would “have these things always in remembrance.” Peter uses the very same word (“decease” or “exodus”) to describe his death that our gospel uses to describe the death of Jesus. Peter understood that he shared in the cross/exodus of Jesus by Baptism and faith. Peter’s death would also be a conquest, a leaving behind of the temporal and an entry into eternity.

2. We need to be clear about what this means. Peter’s exodus was not an escape from the physical world for the sake of the purely “spiritual” world of heaven. Rather, Peter is putting of his temporary tabernacle or tent, his mortal body, and entering into eternity in the sure and certain hope of receiving an eternal and immortal resurrection body after the pattern of Easter. Christian freedom is freedom in the body, not from the body. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the pattern and hope for us all.

D. A Christian view of death and temporary things

1. This highlights the Christian view of death. Death is something Christ has conquered and death is something we will also conquer because we live in Christ through faith. The world views death—both its reality and any talk of it—as a thing to be avoided because the world has no answer for death. Thus, like Peter on the mountain, the world is always trying to capture and maintain the temporal glory. Too often Christians adopt this worldly and secular view. We pursue temporal glories as though they were the most important things; we view faith as the thing that helps us manage our success in time, and we view eternity as a consolation prize that we get when we can no longer avoid death.

2. The proper point of view is sacramental. We do not reject the good things of this world. Rather, we realize they are signs that point us to things that are greater and eternal. As we develop our sacramental vision, we learn to see through the temporal to the eternal. This enables us both to embrace and let go of the moment. We embrace the momentary good as a sign of God’s presence, but when the passage of time takes that temporal good away, we continue to fix our eyes on the eternal—what the temporal thing pointed to.

3. The failure to see with sacramental vision, with eyes of faith, results in idolatry. We worship and serve the temporal as if it were the most important thing; then, when we lose it, we blame God for taking it away from us. Thus, we worship youth and beauty and act as though their passage were a personal affront to us—as if we were the first in history to grow old. We worship money; we assess life in terms of net worth and become elated or depressed depending upon the current level of the stock market. We worship convenience and pleasure and we become grumpy at any call to hardship or cross bearing.

4. The only way to win freedom from this idolatry is through the life of prayer. As we taste and experience the eternal through prayer, we begin to see the true nature of temporal things; we learn both to enjoy and let go of them because we learn to see them as they are, as signs of something greater.

5. This is why faith does not work as mere doctrine, held only in the mind but not experienced as the central reality of life through prayer. The Transfiguration is, thus, not just a pattern; the Transfiguration is the necessary pattern. We must experience this union with the Father through the Son in the Spirit—or else we will forever be stuck in time and afraid of death.

6. Transfiguration is our experience in the Eucharist. We ascend with Christ and in Christ. We remember again that we are God’s children through faith. We enter again into the cloud and are filled again with the Spirit. We taste of eternity in a moment in time. We can’t capture the moment of communion. We can only experience it as a glimpse of what will have forever in Christ. Then we must get back to our work; which is being faithful to do whatever God has given us to do as we look forward to our own exodus and the great glory of life in the world to come.

Transfiguration 2013 – Sermon

A. Baptism, Transfiguration, Trinity and Death

1. The Transfiguration is a significant midsummer feast that we highlight by moving to the following Sunday. It has parallels with the Baptism of Jesus. In both events, the Father speaks, declaring Jesus to be his Son and in both the Spirit descends—as a dove in baptism and here in the cloud. Thus, both reveal God as Trinity. Both events mark a transition. After the Spirit descended in baptism, Jesus went about preaching and teaching in Israel. After the experience of the Spirit in the Transfiguration, Jesus began to prepare to die.

2. The Transfiguration adds a fourth part to the heavenly revelation. The Communion of the Saints is represented by the presence of Moses and Elijah. These two have a specific function here. They represent the law and the prophets, respectively. They talk to Jesus about his “decease” [or death] that he should accomplish as Jerusalem” to show that the cross is in accordance with the law and the prophets. The Greek word for decease is “exodus.” This highlights the cross as the fulfillment of all that Moses accomplished in leading Israel out of Egypt. Jesus will save and redeem Israel from slavery to sin and death through the cross as Moses saved Israel from slavery in the first Exodus.

3. The Transfiguration presents a strange juxtaposition of glory and death. Jesus was transfigured; the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became white and shiny at the very moment Moses and Elijah told him he must die. Thus, glory and death are linked. It is by the cross that Jesus will be glorified, will glorify the Father and will obtain glory.

B. The temporal experience of glory

1. The glory of the Transfiguration quickly went away. Peter tried to capture the moment by building of tents for Jesus and the two visitors (like the tent that housed the glory of God in the wilderness). This occasioned the Trinitarian revelation. The cloud descended upon them all and God spoke, essentially telling Peter to shut up and listen to Jesus. The luminescent glory was not to be captured. It was a momentary taste of the eternal glory the Son possessed from the beginning with the Father, and would possess again after his death; but the business at hand was to fulfill the vocation of the cross.

2. This is the pattern for our lives of prayer.  We pray to the Father in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we are “transfigured”; that is, sometimes we have extraordinary experiences of union with God. However, this ecstatic and glorious aspect of prayer is momentary. We must always return to the realities of daily life in a fallen world.

3. Many misinterpret this to mean that God goes away just when we really need him. The Transfiguration corrects this false view. God gives us a taste of the glory that will be ours for eternity in the resurrection. Then he says, “Now go out and faithfully carry your cross.” If we were always on the mountaintop; if God were always holding our hand, obedience would be easy. God wants us to learn to follow him by acts of the will when his presence is hidden. God want us to develop the spiritual strength to act faithfully when we do not feel like it.

4. We develop this strength through our habits of prayer; through our pattern of withdrawing into prayer and returning to the world to do the work we are called to do. We ascend the mountain to experience union with God and are then sent out to carry our cross. The goal of the life of prayer is the narrow the gap between prayer and life; to cultivate a sense of God’s presence at all times—and not just when we are on the mountain; to, as St. Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

C. The epistle

1. The epistle is St. Peter’s account of the Transfiguration. He tells his readers that he saw the glory of Jesus on the mount and heard the Father’s voice. Peter also tells his readers that he is about to die—“I must shortly put off this my tabernacle.” His purpose in telling them this is so that “after my decease” his readers would “have these things always in remembrance.” Peter uses the very same word (“decease” or “exodus”) to describe his death that our gospel uses to describe the death of Jesus. Peter understood that he shared in the cross/exodus of Jesus by Baptism and faith. Peter’s death would also be a conquest, a leaving behind of the temporal and an entry into eternity.

2. We need to be clear about what this means. Peter’s exodus was not an escape from the physical world for the sake of the purely “spiritual” world of heaven. Rather, Peter is putting of his temporary tabernacle or tent, his mortal body, and entering into eternity in the sure and certain hope of receiving an eternal and immortal resurrection body after the pattern of Easter. Christian freedom is freedom in the body, not from the body. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the pattern and hope for us all.

D. A Christian view of death and temporary things

1. This highlights the Christian view of death. Death is something Christ has conquered and death is something we will also conquer because we live in Christ through faith. The world views death—both its reality and any talk of it—as a thing to be avoided because the world has no answer for death. Thus, like Peter on the mountain, the world is always trying to capture and maintain the temporal glory. Too often Christians adopt this worldly and secular view. We pursue temporal glories as though they were the most important things; we view faith as the thing that helps us manage our success in time, and we view eternity as a consolation prize that we get when we can no longer avoid death.

2. The proper point of view is sacramental. We do not reject the good things of this world. Rather, we realize they are signs that point us to things that are greater and eternal. As we develop our sacramental vision, we learn to see through the temporal to the eternal. This enables us both to embrace and let go of the moment. We embrace the momentary good as a sign of God’s presence, but when the passage of time takes that temporal good away, we continue to fix our eyes on the eternal—what the temporal thing pointed to.

3. The failure to see with sacramental vision, with eyes of faith, results in idolatry. We worship and serve the temporal as if it were the most important thing; then, when we lose it, we blame God for taking it away from us. Thus, we worship youth and beauty and act as though their passage were a personal affront to us—as if we were the first in history to grow old. We worship money; we assess life in terms of net worth and become elated or depressed depending upon the current level of the stock market. We worship convenience and pleasure and we become grumpy at any call to hardship or cross bearing.

4. The only way to win freedom from this idolatry is through the life of prayer. As we taste and experience the eternal through prayer, we begin to see the true nature of temporal things; we learn both to enjoy and let go of them because we learn to see them as they are, as signs of something greater.

5. This is why faith does not work as mere doctrine, held only in the mind but not experienced as the central reality of life through prayer. The Transfiguration is, thus, not just a pattern; the Transfiguration is the necessary pattern. We must experience this union with the Father through the Son in the Spirit—or else we will forever be stuck in time and afraid of death.

6. Transfiguration is our experience in the Eucharist. We ascend with Christ and in Christ. We remember again that we are God’s children through faith. We enter again into the cloud and are filled again with the Spirit. We taste of eternity in a moment in time. We can’t capture the moment of communion. We can only experience it as a glimpse of what will have forever in Christ. Then we must get back to our work; which is being faithful to do whatever God has given us to do as we look forward to our own exodus and the great glory of life in the world to come.

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Pentecost 2013 – Sermon

Pentecost, the reversal of the fall

Pentecost is the undoing of the fall of man. Genesis tells us that the first humans received life from God when he “breathed into their nostrils the breath of life” (2:7). They were given dominion over the creation, the garden and a commandment not to eat the fruit of The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, under pain of death. They disobeyed—and they died. The death they died was the withdrawal of God’s Spirit. God had given them life through the Spirit so that they were able to live in intimate fellowship with God in the garden. After the first sin, God withdrew his life giving presence from them.

This death was evidenced by several things. The first humans began to experience guilt, shame and fear in the presence of God; they were cut off from access to The Tree of Life, which was given to sustain the life that God had given them; and they were exiled from the garden and subjected to the curse of labor, in dual form (Genesis 3).

The physical death the first humans eventually experienced was merely the natural, long term consequence of the death they died when they sinned.  It is like a branch that is cut off from a vine or the trunk of a tree. It appears to have life for while on its own apart from the tree, but it is, in fact, dead the moment is it cut off from the source of life; in due course it will wither and decay.

In the celebrations of Christmas through Ascension, we rehearsed again how the Son of God became man in order to save us from this condition of separation from God. Jesus lived the faithful and holy life, died the atoning death, rose in glorious conquest on Easter and returned to the Father in the Ascension. Today, because of all that Christ has done, God is able to send the Spirit to restore us to life.

The gospel and the gift of the Spirit

In today’s gospel, the gift of the Spirit is described in terms that reverse the pattern of sin. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father and he will give you another comforter.” And again, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word: and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.” The first humans showed that they did not really love God because they did not keep his word; consequently, God withdrew the Spirit from them. Now, when love for Christ is shown by obeying his word, life is restored through the gift of the Spirit.

This highlights the importance of obedience. Whatever intimacy existed between the first humans and God, it was rendered empty by the fact that they did not do what he said. Their disobedience was evidence that they did not really trust God or love him. We show our faith in Christ and our love for him by doing the things he calls us to do. As 1 John explains, “He who says, ‘I know him’ and does not keep his commandments, is a liar and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, truly the love of God is perfected in him” (2:4-5).

The commandments of Jesus are not mere rules. On Maundy Thursday Jesus said, “A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). 1 John says, “This is his commandment: that we should believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another” (3:23). Love obeys the Ten Commandments, but love is not satisfied with mere legal observance. Love fulfills the intent of the commandments; love desires and works for the glory of God and the good of those who are made in his image. This is why love fulfills the law (Romans 13:10).

When faith is shown in loving obedience, the pattern of the fall is reversed; God breathes the breath of life back into us; we are reattached to the true vine; we are restored to life.

The restoration of the human vocation.

The gift of the Spirit restores us to life in the garden in fellowship with God. In Christ, through the Spirit, guilt, shame and fear give way to forgiveness, peace and the boldness we have to say, “Our Father.”

In Christ, through the gift of the Spirit, we may now eat of the Tree of Life. The Tree of Life is the Good Friday tree, and the fruit of that tree is the water of baptism that washes us from our guilt, the Sacramental Bread that gives us life and the Eucharistic blood that continues to cleanse us from sin. As Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the Last Day” (John 6:54).

In Christ, through the gift of the Spirit, our exile from God’s presence in ended and we are brought back into intimate fellowship with God and with all who belong to him in the Communion of the Saints.

Restoration, but not completion

We are restored to fellowship with God in the garden, but the forbidden tree is still there. The commandment to respond to the gift of life with love and obedience must, necessarily, include that possibility that we might not. Consequently, it is God’s will that we, like his people in every age, be tested. The question is the one Jesus presented to Peter. “Do you love me?” (John 21:15-19). The answer is either faith that leads to obedience, or doubt that leads to disobedience.

Before the fall, the first humans were innocent and sinless, but they were not perfect or mature. It was God’s intention that they grow by faith and obedience. They were supposed to refuse the temptation of the forbidden fruit and they were supposed to feed on the fruit of the Tree of Life. Had they done that, they would have grown in knowledge in the right way; they would have progressed from infancy to adulthood and maturity.

We are cleansed from sin and restored to fellowship with God through the gift of the Spirit; but we are not yet mature or perfected. We may look like adults, but we are, in fact, spiritual children. It is our vocation to grow to maturity by faith and obedience; by saying no to the false promises made to us by the evil one, and by feeding on the bread of life through the life of prayer.

As Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word: and My Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

All Saints Day 2012 – Sermon

Tithing and the Mission of the Church

A. Sin and the human vocation

We are in the Octave of All Saints. All Saints is a sort of “catch-all” feast for unknown holy people who don’t have their own day. However, since we are all called to be saints (1 Corinthians 1:2), it is, prophetically, our own feast day. The “multitude which no man could number of all nations, and kindreds, and peoples, and tongues” (Revelation 7:9) is a timeless vision of all who persevere in faith through tribulation and stand victorious before God’s throne.

This is, “The Communion of the Saints;” the fellowship of all who are bound together in Christ through the Spirit. It consists of all believers, whether they are currently living in the body or in the intermediate state, awaiting the resurrection. The restoration of our relationship with God in Christ necessarily restores us to union with all who belong to him.

Sin severed our union with God; but is also alienated us (and continues to alienate us) from each other. After the original sin, the next sin was that one human being killed another—a murder that was a result of offerings made to God. Cain made an offering that was rejected by God. Abel made an offering that was accepted. For that reason, Cain killed Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). In Christ, this pattern is reversed. When we turn from sin and put our faith in Jesus, our offering is accepted; and, rather than killing each other, we are reconciled and learn to work for one another’s good.

Redemption in Christ restores us to the vocation that we lost through sin. We were made to be priests and kings of the creation. We were made to take the creation that God gave us and offer it back to God in thanksgiving; and we were made to rule over the creation righteously. The paradox is that only when we give the creation back to God as an offering in thanksgiving—only when we let go of the creation—do we fully possess it and rule over it. When we hold on to the creation, it becomes an idol, and it rules over us.

B. The story of Cain and Abel and its implications.

Let us look at the story of Cain and Abel. Genesis tells us, “In the process of time it came to pass that Cain brought an offering of the fruit of the ground to the Lord. Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat. And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering.” (Genesis 4:3-5).

The language of Genesis 4 suggests the problem. Abel offered the first and best of his flock. In the Bible, the first and best represents the whole. By this offering, Abel exercised his priestly duty. He took what God had given him and he offered it back to God in thanksgiving. God accepted Abel and his offering. Cain brought “an offering.” Cain knew he was supposed to give, but did not want to; so he brought something he thought he could spare. This attitude is a consequence of the fall. Fallen man says of the creation, “This is mine.” He clings tightly to the creation as though he were the owner and not a steward; as though it was a possession and not a gift. As Hebrews says, “By faith, Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he received approval as righteous, God bearing witness by accepting his gifts” (11:2).

Throughout the Bible, the righteous follow in Abel’s footsteps by giving back to God the first and best of what God gives to them. The first and best is represented by the tithe. Abraham tithed to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-20). Jacob made the following vow to God: “Of all that thou givest me I will surely give the tenth to thee” (Genesis 28:20-22). Various tithes were established in the Torah, the chief of which went to support the ministry of the Priests and Levites in the temple (Leviticus 27:30-32). At the end of the Old Testament, when the temple languished because Israel neglected to tithe, God accused his people of robbing him. God promised that if his people would repent and give the tithe he would pour down his blessing upon them (Malachi 3:8-12). In the New Testament Jesus criticized the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, but he commended their meticulous practice of tithing (Matthew 23:23). It is the will of God that the ministry of the church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit and the successor to the Old Testament temple, be supported by the tithes of the people of God.

C. Tithing and trusting God.

We tithe when we take the income God gives to us and give the first tenth as an offering to God. The tithe should be the first check we write. This is how we imitate Abel and offer God our first and or best. This is one way we fulfill our vocation as priests of the creation.

Some will say, “I can’t afford to tithe.” Of course, this is literally false; the first and best are always there to give. What this really means is, “I am afraid that if I tithe I won’t have enough left over for the rest of my needs.” This is precisely what makes the tithe an expression of faith. We give God the first and best trusting that God will make the rest sufficient to meet our needs. As Hebrews says, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb 11:6).

God’s faithfulness is illustrated by the story of the prophet Elijah and widow of Zarephath. During a severe famine, God sent Elijah to the widow to ask for food. She told Elijah that she only had a little food. She was about to prepare for herself and her son as a sort of last meal before they died of hunger. Elijah told her, “Do not fear; go and do as you have said, but make me a small cake from it first, and bring it to me; and afterward make some for yourself and your son. For thus says the Lord God of Israel: `The bin of flour shall not be used up, nor shall the jar of oil run dry, until the day the Lord sends rain on the earth.’” 1 Kings tells us, “She went away and did according to the word of Elijah; and she and her household ate for many days. The bin of flour was not used up, nor did the jar of oil run dry, according to the word of the Lord which He spoke by Elijah” (1 Kings 17:8-16). The widow gave first to God, and the rest was made sufficient to meet her needs.

D. The corporate dimension of tithing.

The mission of our church 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 p. 291) This means that it is the mission of each of us to use our gifts in service, take our part in church’s life of prayer and support the church with our tithes—and with other offerings as we are able.

Our participation in the mission of the church is not just for our own benefit; it is our part of the mission and work of the church. If any of us fails to do our part, the mission of the church is less powerful than it ought to be. The church is the army of God; if any soldier in God’s army does not man his post and fulfill his calling, we are less able to fight and conquer the enemy.

People sometimes ask how they can help the church; they are looking for some special thing they can do. However, what they church really needs is not so much the periodic act of heroism; what the church really needs is for all of its members to be committed to our mission; to be faithful in the regular habits of following Christ, worshiping God and working, praying and giving for the spread of his kingdom.

Ordinary faithfulness makes people heroes in the church. What God has done through the ministry of St. Matthew’s Church has been made possible by those who have been faithful, year in and year out, to take their part in our mission. This is particularly true with regard to money. We have always been able to do more than what our size would suggest because so many of our people have been faithful in their tithing. We have often had year-end deficits erased by people who experienced financial blessing from God and, as always, were faithful to give. Expansion of our ministry has been made possible by new people who join us and begin to support our ministry with their tithe.

We are committed as a church to mission. We believe that God is calling us to reach out beyond ourselves and share with others what God has given to us. A church that merely wants to survive—that merely wants to pay the bills for another year—might sustain itself with an offering of some of the left over grain. But a church with a mission, the army of God dressed for battle, requires our first and our best, our tithe.

Think of the church as a canoe and of each member as an oarsman. When all row in harmony, the mission of the church moves forward efficiently and effectively. When some choose not to row, others have to row harder to make up for those who do not row. When some are difficult, others have to row harder to make up for the oars that are dragging in the water. As we begin to plan for next year, we are asking all of our members to get on board and row with us. We believe is calling us to do great things. The more people who get on board and row with us, the more people who work and pray and give for the spread of the kingdom, the greater will be the works that God will do through us.

 

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P.S. A note on pledge cards. Pledge cards provide an estimate of our tithes for the year to help the vestry in the process of budgeting. If circumstances change, one’s pledge/tithe will also change. For example, if you lose your job during the year, your pledge would obviously be reduced—a tithe of 0 is 0! Conversely, if your income is greater than anticipated, your pledge/tithe would increase. The pledge cards let us know that people are on board with us and are committed to our mission.

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Saint Simon and Saint Jude 2012 – Sermon

The Apostolic Model: Called to follow and then sent to serve

We do not have much information about St Simon and St. Jude. The tradition says that they carried on active missionary careers and died as martyrs in Persia. But, even with the lack of details, we do know significant things about them. Jesus called them to follow him, and Jesus sent out them out to minister to others. The word Apostle means, “One who is sent.”

The calling and sending of the apostle’s provide a model for our growth into maturity as Christians. We were each in some way called to follow Jesus. We began as disciples and learners. But, as some point in time, we also are sent to serve others for Jesus.

From takers to givers

The Apostles didn’t begin as missionaries to Persia and other far off lands. They began as followers. Jesus had a three year ministry, and the apostles spent that time learning, watching and being ministered to by Jesus. To be sure, the apostles did things for others during this time, but their work was something of an apprenticeship or residency. Jesus sent them out to preach and heal, and they reported back to Jesus on how the work went. It was not always a complete success. There was, for example, a failed exorcism; the apostle’s were not able to cast out the demon and Jesus had to be called upon to help (Matthew 17:14-21).

It wasn’t until Ascension and Pentecost that the Apostles were called to make the transition from followers to leaders. Jesus returned to the Father, sent the Spirit to them and said, essentially: “Now you are in charge.” Then they began to preach, teach and heal, first in Jerusalem and Samaria and then unto the uttermost parts of the earth” (Acts 1:8). That’s how a couple of native Israelites ended up dying in Persia.

This is the pattern of our own discipleship. We begin as learners and receivers of grace in the Body of Christ. Our sins are forgiven and our wounds are healed. We begin to learn the Biblical story and discover how to apply it to our lives. We take note of more mature Christians and learn to imitate their examples. Then, at some point in time, we are called to shift from takers to givers. Where we once looked to others to teach us and show us how it is done, we begin to be called to teach others and provide examples for them to follow.

Of course, we never stop needing grace, teaching, healing or mentoring. But, at some point, the balance should begin to shift. At some point in our development we should experience a transition from net taker to net giver, from mere follower/learner to missionary.

A newborn child does nothing but eat, make noises and poop. When the child grows, there is an expectation that the child will help with some chores as well as empty the refrigerator.  When the child becomes an adult, there is an expectation that he will begin to fill the refrigerator and provide support for others. A young plant requires much water, sunlight and, perhaps fertilizer. It does nothing but take; but all that is given to the plant is in expectation that the plant will grow and bear fruit—that the plant will eventually give as well as take.

Trinitarian Theology, Creation and New Creation.

We can understand the transition from takers to givers through the lens of Trinitarian theology. We believe that God created the world out of love. The Father loves the Son, the Son loves the Father and the Holy Spirit is their mutual love that that flows out from them into creative activity. God is so full of love that it is his nature to freely share it.

Sin separates us from God’s love. It makes us self-centered and causes us to be concerned mainly with our own interests and needs. When we are called to follow Christ, we are called out of our self-centeredness back into the love of God. As we begin, in the words of Ephesians, to “learn Christ” we begin to be filled again with the love that comes from God, and we experience a change is orientation. We no longer live only for ourselves. We are no longer focused only on our own wants and needs. We realize that Christ has given us gifts that we can give to others. We begin to perceive the needs in the world around us and we begin to respond to them.

This is a restoration of the human vocation. We were made in the image of God. We were made to share in the fullness of his Trinitarian love. We were made to be participants in God’s creative activity; to be signs and instruments of God’s love in the world. We lost this exalted status through sin, but are restored to it through the gift of the Holy Spirit. In Christ, we are filled with the love of God (cf. Romans 5:5). W become participants in the work of God’s new creation.

This is why the mission of the church is not merely to do good things on a human level. It is to give to others what we have received from God. If we do not experience the love of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in the life of prayer, we cannot be signs and instruments of that love to the world. Prayer and sacramental grace are the necessary foundations for mission.

The Missionary Church

It is a problem in the church when significant numbers of people do not make this transition from follower to missionary; from taker to give. This seems to be a particular problem in our time, with the prevalence of the narcissistic personality and the ubiquity of the consumer culture. Many people live in perpetual Christian immaturity—“I’m not being fed.” “I don’t like this and therefore I am leaving.” They complain and demand rather than sacrifice and serve. They are perpetually the problem rather than the solution. They are perpetually children who never become adults. They are trees that receive water but bear no fruit.

One sign of mature and healthy Christians is that they develop an outward orientation. They cease to be mere religious consumers and begin to be missionaries. They stop demanding that the church do what they want and begin to ask how they can help with the church’s mission. They are not only healed by grace; they also become instrumental in the healing of others. This is also the sign of a mature and healthy church. It is focused on reaching out to the world with the gospel; it desires to share with others the love of God it experiences.

We can perceive this transition in our own church. Over the last quarter century we have grown from being wounded traditionalists into being missionary Anglicans. An increasing proportion of our membership comes, not only to receive grace, but also to be part of the ministry of grace to others. This is evident in the way we are helping St. Andrew’s and other churches in the task of renewal. This is also evident in our growing involvement in overseas mission. We are growing in maturity. We are realizing that we are not here for ourselves, but are called to be apostles to others.

Further meditations on what it means to be a missionary.

We may not be sent to Persia to die as martyrs, but we are also sent out to serve. We are sent to reach out to our family members, co-workers, friends and, even, our enemies. We are sent out into our homes and our places of work and leisure as ambassadors for Christ. We are sent out to be those who solve the problem rather than create it; who end the argument rather that perpetuate it; who try to understand rather than insisting on being understood. We are called to be signs and instruments of the presence of God’s love in Christ in the midst of a fallen world.

This is why we talk so much about spiritual gifts. Your spiritual gifts are specific endowments God has given you in Christ through the Spirit. Your part in the mission of the church will, in large measure, be discerned by finding out what your gifts are and how you are supposed to use those gifts in service to others for Christ.

We cannot be the people we are called to be without a sense of mission. The great error of the world is that we see the goal of life as accumulating things for ourselves. We try to take from the world for our own account. Thus, many aspire to win the lottery, get rich and retire into a life of ease and comfort. This is sin and the fall. We were made to live for something greater than ourselves—first for God and then for others in his name. The paradox is that the more we fully we embrace our mission, our call to serve, the more full we ourselves become.

When we embrace our giftedness and mission, we participate in the work of building up the church. The church is not a physical building. The church is the new community of people who are bound together in Christ through the Spirit, with each member filling his or her God-given role. When we were called to be disciples, we were, as the epistle says, “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner-stone.” As we mature in the faith we are sent out to participate in the ongoing work of building up the church.

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