A. The Second Coming and blamelessness.
1. Today epistle ends with the goal of the Christian life: “that you may be blameless in the Day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The “Day of our Lord Jesus Christ” is the moment when he shall come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead.” The New Testament teaches us that Jesus will judge “the world”—those who do not believe in him—but will come to save and justify his elect. We are saved by Christ from the judgment that is coming on the world. To be saved from judgment means to be declared blameless by the judge.
– The concept of blamelessness is illustrated in the gospel. Jesus stands blameless before his adversaries, who try to get him to say something wrong to discredit him. In the cosmic scene of judgment and redemption, the devil is our adversary and constant accuser—the cosmic prosecuting attorney. Jesus Christ is the one who justifies us, who defends us and declares us to be innocent when we put our faith in him. This is the central them of Job, which we are currently reading as the first lesson in Evening Prayer.
2. We cannot be blameless in the sense that we never commit sin. We can be blameless because Jesus died for our sins and our sins are forgiven when we repent and believe in him. Maintaining our state of blamelessness is the central work of the life of prayer. Blamelessness is not a fixed, static condition. Because we encounter temptation each day and sometimes we fall, we must continually labor in faith and love to maintain our blamelessness. This involves three essential things.
a. We must continually confess our sins. Confession is how we process and get rid of sin. Confession removes sin from us and leads us to forgiveness. The practice of confession changes forgiveness from a mental concept into an experiential reality. Our confessions mature as we consider not just what we do wrong but also the motives for our behavior.
b. We must reconcile with others. Blamelessness means being willing to be reconciled with those from whom we have been estranged through sin. This means forgiving those who have wronged us, asking forgiveness of those we have wronged and restoring the relationship as much as it is within our power to do so.
c. We must always be about the business of doing the good the Holy Spirit has prepared for us. We have a vocation. God made each of us and gave us certain gifts to be used for a purpose in his new creation. We confess and remove our sin so that we can do the good. Too many people think of the Christian life chiefly in term of trying not to sin. Christ removes our sins only so that we may begin to love. In the gospel Jesus teaches us that love fulfills the law. The two great commandments are not a list of prohibitions; the two great commandments are to love God and love our neighbor. We cannot love without forgiveness, but we must go beyond mere confession to positive good if we want to please God.
d. The invitation to confession in the liturgy summarizes these points. The requirement for communion are as follows: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love an charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life following the commandments of God, draw near with faith and take this sacrament…” (BCP 75). This is a weekly reminder of what we must do to remain blameless.
B. The collect: The sources of temptation that threaten our blamelessness
1. The world, the flesh and the devil explained: The world is external to us. It it is fallen humanity in its corporate rebellion against God. It is the rewards of money, status and please that draw us away from the worship of God. The flesh is our internal fallen nature. Sin directs our desires away from the God and towards the things the world offers to us. The devil is the chief of the fallen angels who aids in our temptation and tempts us to despair when we fall. We renounced these three “enemies of the soul” in baptism (BCP 276-277).
2. We combat these by spiritual disciplines: Tithing and generosity help us to resist “the vain pomp and glory of the world.” Fasting helps us to overcome and subdue “the sinful desires of the flesh.” Prayer gives us the supernatural power to conquer the evil one.
3. This requires a commitment to a life or rule of prayer. If we do not actively engage the spiritual battle through prayer and spiritual disciplines, the enemies of the soul will overcome us. The world will make us desire its wealth and status unless we actively resist it by almsgiving and service. The desires of the flesh will conquer us unless we tame them by fasting. Prayer is necessary to strengthen our faith, keep us connected to God and guard us against fear, anxiety and despair.
4. We will lose our blamelessness unless we fight the good fight to maintain it (cf. Ephesians 6:10-18). This is why we talk so much about “the life of prayer.” The life of prayer IS the Christian life; without it we cannot live “in Christ,” for we will become distracted and tempted and we will fall. The only way of return is to resume the life of prayer. As Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches. He who abides in me and I in him bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing” (John 15:5, emphasis added).
C. Blamelessness means fighting the right battle.
1. To remain blameless, faithfulness must be more important to us than results. We want to accomplish things in life—the good things God calls us to do. But if the choice is between getting something we want and being faithful, faithfulness must take precedence. This is the nature of the tests we face in life. God tests us to see if it is more important to us to be faithful than it is to be successful or satisfied. Will we endure the cross the leads to resurrection?
2. God’s intention is to give us all things, just as Jesus endured the cross and is now King of Kings and Lord of Lords. But first he had to pass the test and prove himself faithful. This is the purpose of this life. This life is our wilderness of testing. Its purpose is to refine us and purify us for God’s kingdom. It is our vocation to persevere in faith and obedience so that we can stand blameless before God and receive our inheritance on that day.
D. Eucharist and the Last Day
1. We anticipate our final encounter with Christ when we celebrate the Eucharist each Sunday. The Lord’s Day anticipates the Day of the Lord. As begin and end the week at the altar of God (for Sunday is both the first and the eighth day) our time begins and ends “in Christ.” All the elements of the future event are present here. We have an encounter with Christ that changes us—our sinful bodies are made clean and souls are washed. We enter into union with God. We stand blameless before Christ right now.
2. The goal as we leave the altar is to maintain our blamelessness through our daily life of prayer: to confess our sins each day, to reconcile with each other each day, to fulfill our vocation to love God and neighbor each day. Constant prayer keeps us from falling to far away; it helps us nip sin in the bud. Prayer moves us to reconcile before minor spats become major arguments. Prayer keeps us focused on the good works that God has prepared for us. We live this life with one pre-eminent goal in mind: “that you may be blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.”