Sermons

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 The following sermons are from recent months, in reverse order — with the most recent one being the first one below.

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 1st Sunday in Lent                           February 18, 2018

Collects: p. 125 and 124

O.T. Isaiah 58

Epistle: II Cor. 6:1-10

Gospel: St. Matthew 4:1 – 11

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Give us grace to use such abstinence…that we may ever obey thy godly motions…” (collect)

On Wednesday, we began that period of “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” about which we sing today, in our gradual (55) and closing (61) hymns. Forty days, not including the Sundays, which should serve as a time for us to examine ourselves, improve ourselves, and make ourselves more ready to be at the feet of the Risen Christ on Easter morning! To help place us in the proper frame of mind for this, we might consider a line from the collect for today, “Give us grace to use such abstinence...that we may ever obey thy godly motions…

To emphasize that this is a penitential time of the church year, during Lent we “shift gears” into that mode, and open our service each week with the Litany. The Litany truly is a meaningful service on its own – one which reminds us of the many areas in which we need help, and of blessings for which we should be thankful. Some find the Litany to be too repetitive – too “boring” – but I suggest that if one really listens to the words and prays the responses, it will not seem so!

Also, as specified in the rubrics, today we will use the Exhortation, after the Prayer for the Church. It may be used at any service, but, in the rubrics, we are directed to use it on the first Sundays in Advent and Lent, and on Trinity Sunday.

This season, since the Second Century, has been a time for preparation, learning, and purification. In those early days, it was a period of preparation for candidates making themselves ready for their baptisms that would occur on Easter Eve. It varied in length – from just a few days – to the six weeks with which we are familiar now.

How should our spiritual lives be conducted at this time of the year as compared with the rest of the year? Do we actually modify our prayer life, our educational undertakings, and our feelings of penitence? We should! What are some of the things we might be doing that we are not? When I was young, I remember the suggestion being made that we “give up something for Lent,” and there was of course a Good Friday service – often it was a “community service,” with many denominations participating. There was a service on Maundy Thursday – but I don’t believe as much was made of it as we do. Ash Wednesday was something mostly observed by the Roman Catholics – not by many Episcopalians. Since coming to the so-called “traditional” or “continuing” church movement, I have been made much more aware of the fullness of our church experience – the variety of opportunities to learn about and demonstrate one’s commitment to God. I have become more aware that we really do believe the things that we say we do and profess in the creeds. And, I certainly have been made aware of such disciplines as fasting, confession, and observing the various Holy Days – as I never was before. As we mention confession, I remind you that the Sacrament of Penance, or Confession, is always available if you will speak to me. If this is something you wish to add to your religious experience, I shall be happy to help you with it. It is not difficult! Lent is a most appropriate time to begin.

There are probably three areas, which our Lenten preparation should involve. Individuals vary, and some may need to concentrate more on a particular one of these areas. Most of us could probably use a little work in all three. They are first – prayer, which includes fasting, self-examination, and repentance; next would be education – improving our knowledge of scripture and the Church; and finally would be good works. There probably is some overlapping of these. Today we will consider mostly the prayer aspect.

Our gradual hymn (55) this morning brings us ever closer to Christ, through its mention of sharing forty days with Him. We should think of this season as a journey with our Saviour – He should be our “traveling companion,” or even our guide, in that “pilgrimage.” As we sang in that gradual hymn, we should “abstain from worldly joys,” “fast with unceasing prayer,” and “share His sorrow,” as we make our way with Him. Christ, in His original forty days in the wilderness, did fast and pray for us. Now it is time to repay that favor – really that debt. We need to “die to self,” and live by His Holy Word.

We have become too comfortable in this world, and especially in this wonderful country in which we live. We tend to take too much for granted – even our likelihood of reaching the Heavenly Kingdom. Our hardships, for the most part, are nothing as compared with those of people in many lands. The epistle today gives quite a list of hardships we are to expect. But we are so comfortable that we forget these and many of the sacrifices others have made for us – Christ in particular, but also our ancestors who established this great land based on biblical principles – and it was based on biblical principles, regardless of what some of our political leaders say. The societal trend recently has been to move away from Christ, and it seems to me that Lent is a good time for unified prayer for our country and for a turnaround in this awful moral letdown in which we find ourselves. We should also remember and be thankful for all those who have defended our country and preserved our freedom down through history, with God’s help! We need to become re-focused on God, and on Christ, and what He sacrificed for us. We should alter our behavior and our daily routine during this penitential time, but more important, we should change our thought processes. What better time than Lent is there to do this?

It seems that most of us do take on some sort of project, or “give up” something for the duration of this season, but do we really try to get in touch with the penitential and self-examination sides of Lent?

The collect mentions fasting – compares our Lenten Fast with that of our Lord in the Wilderness. Fasting can sharpen our thought processes – make us concentrate on our relationship with God. It reminds us to pray and meditate. Therefore, it is part of the overall prayer process. But our Lenten fast actually may be unrelated to eating. It should be also an avoidance of sinful thoughts and questionable activities. So, fasting can refer either to a means of improving prayer, or expressing repentance by making changes in our behavior.

Education should always be a part of our Church life, but most especially during Lent, as we try to learn more about our Lord, His sacrifices, His love for us, and His desires for our behavior – and also the sacraments. We wish that we were able to have some sort of formal programs of study during Lent, here at St. Michael’s – as we were able to do some years ago. However, many of our members live some distance away, or have very busy lives, and others do not drive at night – all making such activities very impractical. We have to do our Lenten study programs on our own, at home. That does not mean it should not be done or that it can’t be helpful. If you would like a suggestion of a subject or a book to study, please let me know.

And, finally, we should be doing some good works for others. There are many opportunities for this – within and outside of our congregation! This may be in the form of some volunteer work, or helping a particular person or family in need, or more visiting of those who are sick or lonely. It also may be in the form of monetary aid – and to help with that, we have “mite boxes” available. If you are not familiar with “mite boxes” – I imagine most of you are – a good procedure is to drop a few coins in the box when you feel you might have committed some small infraction – along with a few words of prayer for forgiveness. Also – when you feel you have received some form of blessing, a donation and short prayer of thanksgiving is most appropriate. I suggest using the mite box in both types of situations – a reminder of our blessings and of our shortcomings – a stimulus for prayer! We do this during Lent and bring the boxes in at Easter or shortly thereafter. All offerings are combined, and the vestry decides on a suitable recipient.

I pray that your Lenten experience this year will strengthen you, bolster your faith, bring you closer to the Passion of Christ, and when Easter arrives, bring you peace in the knowledge and love of God. Let us pray that God may “Give us grace to use such abstinence...that we may ever obey thy godly motions…

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 60 – “With broken heart and contrite sigh”

Gradual –55 – “Forty days and forty nights”

Offertory – 404 – “My God, accept my heart this day”

Communion – 196 – “Bread of the world, in mercy broken”

Recessional – 61 – “The glory of these forty days”

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February 11, 2018           Quinquagesima

Collect: p.122

OT: Deut. 10:12-15, 17- 11:1

Epistle: I Cor. 13: 1-13

Gospel: St. Luke 18: 31-43

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

 “O love that will not let me go” (Hymn 458)

          Today, we shall talk a bit about the propers – the readings for the day – as we usually do in sermons or homilies – but also, I shall be referring to the offertory hymn – “O love that will not let me go.” (Hymn 458) This is a hymn that I like to use on this Sunday of the church year, because it fits the propers very well. Many of you have heard its interesting story. I always place this hymn in the offertory “slot” in order that you might have the benefit of its background before we sing it.

These lessons this morning really “key in” to where we are right now in the church year, and what we have coming up – beginning this Wednesday – “Ash Wednesday” – the first day of Lent. The Lenten season is intended to draw us nearer to God, to help us realize His love for us, to further our love for Him and our fellow man – and to make us look critically at our own actions and our motivations for those actions. Each year, we are given forty days to do this – and the Church suggests a number of ways to help us in this time of self-examination.

Interestingly, the forty-day period was not the original procedure. When first instituted – as a preparation for the baptisms at Easter, it was a period of fasting, but only two or three days in duration. The longer season was instituted around 325 AD, approximately at the time of the First Council of Nicea. The forty-day period may have been patterned after the fasts of Moses, Elijah, and of course, Christ, Himself – no one knows for certain, but it seems logical. In any event, Lent has become a time for prayer, self-denial or fasting, and self-examination.

Our readings this morning give us some aids – some assistance in doing this – and provide insight into the various areas we should consider.

In Deuteronomy, we hear some solid advice: to “fear the Lord…walk in his ways…love him… and serve the Lord thy God…” and to “keep the commandments…and… statutes.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-13) The collect and epistle emphasize the importance of faith, hope, and charity – charity being interpreted as love in many Bible translations – and how our actions must be motivated by our love, or they amount to nothing! Even “though I have…faith, so that I could remove mountains” or “bestow all my goods to feed the poor” – if I “have not love, (charity) I am nothing.” (I Cor. 13:2-3)  The epistle closes with a clarifying statement: “And now abideth faith, hope, and charity; but the greatest of these is charity” – “love.” (I Cor. 13:13)

Moving to the gospel reading, we find an example of faith – and what it can do – as the eyes of the blind man are opened and Jesus tells him “thy faith has saved thee.” (Luke 18:42) We note that the eyes of the apostles also were beginning to open at about this time – they had been blind, also – in a spiritual sense! From today’s gospel, we read, “They understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things that were spoken.” (Luke 18:34)

As we mention this blindness, I wish to point out that the words of our offertory hymn (458) this morning were written by George Matheson – an almost-blind Scottish Presbyterian minister. His story is amazing! He was just barely able to discern light and dark images. He wrote this hymn in one sitting on the night of June 6, 1882, and later described the remarkable event as follows: “I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s mar­ri­age, and the rest of the fam­i­ly were stay­ing over­night in Glas­gow. Some­thing hap­pened to me, which was known only to my­self, and which caused me the most se­vere men­tal suf­fer­ing. The hymn was the fruit of that suf­fer­ing. It was the quick­est bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the im­press­ion of hav­ing it dic­tat­ed to me by some in­ward voice ra­ther than of work­ing it out my­self. I am quite sure that the whole work was com­plet­ed in five min­utes, and equal­ly sure that it ne­ver re­ceived at my hands any re­touch­ing or cor­rect­ion. I have no na­tur­al gift of rhy­thm. All the other vers­es I have ever writ­ten are man­u­fact­ured ar­ti­cles; this came like a day­spring from on high.”

Is this not another miracle involving one without sight? When we sing the words in a few moments, keep the author’s situation in mind. One can feel his anguish – and also his knowledge of God’s love – the “Love that wilt not let me go,” as he pledges to give his life back to God. Matheson seems to say that he yields his dimming vision, knowing that God’s light – the sunshine – will light “the life that shall endless be.” That is an expression of faith and hope for better times to come – in the heavenly kingdom! This hymn and its author seem to tie together the propers for this day – love, moving closer to God, yielding ourselves back to God – expressing hope and having faith – all the while looking through eyes that need to be opened!          We might say that he was “seeing through a glass darkly.” (I Cor. 13:12)

So – we may take these lessons (and also this hymn!) and apply them to ourselves – use them to open our eyes. The season of Lent should be a time of different practices and procedures for us – not just the normal routine. Lent is the most penitential season of the church year. We emphasize this right here in the church – in our services – in a number of ways. The violet hangings and vestments signify penance and humility. The Gloria in excelsis is eliminated from the liturgy. We shift to a slightly more solemn service music setting – Merbecke. Flowers are not used during the season. All of these modifications are intended to be reminders that this is a different time of the year! Give some thought to this as you participate, and as you notice the changes.

We emphasize this further in our own lives, our homes, and with our own personal procedures. Many “give up something for Lent.” We’ve heard of this procedure all our lives. Others “take on” some new endeavor – such as a bible study or other reading project. Some embark on a program such as visiting the sick or those in nursing homes, or another similar selfless project. All of these are intended to help us focus on God’s love for us, and our love for others.

We all remember the use of Lenten “mite boxes” when we were children and, again this year, we are providing them, here at St. Michael’s. It is a nice, simple way to accomplish two things. First, we may find it useful as, during our day, we feel thankful for something that has occurred to us, to acknowledge our thanks by placing in the box, a small gift of a few coins – with a few words of prayer. And, remember, it is a “mite” box – it doesn’t have to be a big donation – in the end it will add up to a worthwhile amount. Many carry it a little further, by also contributing when they feel they might have stepped over the line in the other direction and perhaps done something they should not have done – another little reminder, emphasizing the penitential aspect of Lent! And, the second benefit– when the boxes are brought in at Easter, we will have a little extra money to contribute to a worthy charity. Please do not forget them – use them regularly!

God has love for us, and He also produces love in us. God pours His love into us through the Holy Spirit, as we accept His way. Paul saw “love” as the great distinguishing characteristic of Christians. In a world full of people motivated by ambition, greed, and selfishness, Paul expected Christians to be easily recognized by their “love,” as individuals and as a community. This intense, very spiritual, “love” is what sets Christians apart from the rest of the world.

In the collect this morning, we pray that the Holy Ghost may “pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity,” (or love) which is the “very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead …”

This is, that “Love that will not let me go.”

Amen

Hymns:

Processional: 158, 2nd tune – “O splendor of God’s glory bright”

Gradual: 344 – “O Love, how deep, how broad, how high”

Offertory: 458, 1st tune – “O love that wilt not let me go”

Communion: 202, 2nd – “Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord”

Recessional: 567 – “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us”

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Feb. 4  Service was canceled due to weather prediction, but this one was prepared for this day.

February 4, 2018                                 Sexagesima

Collect: p. 120

OT: Isaiah 50:1-10 (Slightly different from BCP listing)

Epistle: II Cor. 11:19-31

Gospel: St. Luke 8:4-15

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia 

“Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement?” (Isaiah 50:1)

The Old Testament selection this morning from Isaiah (50:1-10) opens with some confusing wording. Following that, however, we find some of the clearest prophecies concerning our Lord’s mission and His suffering that we find anywhere in the Bible. Let’s spend a few moments on this Old Testament reading, and to begin, let’s try to straighten out some of this confusing part.

 

God is speaking through Isaiah to the people, of Israel. He asks “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement?” (50:1-10) The reference to the “bill of your mother’s divorcement” refers to the “spiritual marriage” of God to the people of that nation. Here, He emphasizes the unbreakable “marriage-like” relationship that He had with Israel. This is the same relationship we have with Christ. We – the Church collectively – all of us – are the Bride of Christ. He is the Bridegroom. This is one of the many explanations of why one in Holy Orders must be male – he is “standing in” for the Bridegroom – Christ. To have a woman in this role certainly confuses that issue. It simply would not seem right to have a female bridegroom.

Of course, the question, “Where is the bill of your mother’s divorcement,” has no answer – such papers do not exist, and that is the point that God is making. At that time, husbands were allowed to divorce wives for almost no reason at all, merely by giving them a “bill of divorcement.” In this instance, God is telling the Israelites that He did not divorce them – put them away – but that they had deserted Him. From the gradual hymn – “Perverse and foolish oft we (I) strayed, but yet in love he sought us (me)” (Hymn 345)

Also at that time – as horrible as it seems in our time – fathers could sell their children into slavery. For financial reasons, sometimes they felt they were forced to do so – and it is to this that the next line refers: “which of my creditors is it to whom I have sold you?” “For your iniquities have ye sold yourselves.” (Isaiah 50:1) God explains – He has not divorced Israel or sold his children: they have caused the separation themselves, by their own disobedience and immorality!

God asks, “When I came, was there no man? (Isaiah 50:2) – which means, when I called, was there no one to answer?” By this, He tells them, “I came to help you, and you did not respond.” Did you think my hands were too short or that I was not strong enough to redeem you – that I did not have enough power?”  Look, He says, “I have the power – I can dry up the sea, make the rivers devoid of life, and cloud the skies. Yes, I have the power!” God can accomplish anything!

Beginning with the next verse, we find this very clear prophecy of Christ’s mission and sacrifice. This portion should be understood as if it were Jesus, Himself, speaking. Here, through the voice of Isaiah, we hear Him say, “God hath given me the tongue of the learned,” so that He might speak as One who is both educated, and wise in a practical sense. Do you remember how the Pharisees were “astonished” at Jesus’ knowledge?  And then He adds, “God hath opened mine ear” – a good minister must know how to listen, as well as to speak.

The chapter then moves to prophecy of Christ’s suffering, and listen to how vividly this is done: “I gave my back to the smiters.” (Isaiah 50:6) This surely refers to the scourging of Jesus by Pilate. “I gave my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair,” and “hid not my face from shame and spitting” These are references to the other parts of Jesus’ ordeal – the plucking of His beard and spitting in His face. “I have set my face like a flint,” reminds us of the New Testament description that Jesus “set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51) – determined to go to the fate for which he had come and must undergo in order to fulfill God’s plan. He is resolute! He will not turn back!

So, in this Old Testament passage, through Isaiah, we hear God’s expression of His disappointment in the people of Israel and His assurance that He did not put them away – create the rift between them and Him – they did it themselves. There certainly is a tone of chastisement in this reading. Then we have a preview of what the Messiah must endure when He comes to redeem the sinful world.

The epistle from Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians also exudes an air of chastisement. He was a bit upset as he wrote this portion that we find as our epistle today. You will notice that Paul is angry, as he speaks in a way that is not typical for him. “False teachers” had come into the area and stirred up the people of Corinth. These were Jewish-Christian teachers or missionaries, who had begun to teach their supposed superiority over Paul – because of their strict adherence to the Law. This conflicted with the teachings of Jesus and Paul. These people really were enemies of Paul, tried to undermine his teaching, and disagreed with his views. These newcomers accused Paul of being fickle, proud, not a good speaker, unqualified to speak for Christ, and even dishonest.

Paul is angry, and begins this tirade with a bit of sarcasm – “Ye suffer fools gladly, seeing ye yourselves are so wise.”  (II Cor. 11:9) You think you are so smart, he says – listen to my qualifications! Then he begins to list them: I am a Hebrew, just as they; I am an Israelite, just as they; I am descended from Abraham, just as they; I am even more of a minister of Christ than they. Then, he lists his trials and tribulations suffered in Christ’s name, mentioning lashings, beatings, shipwrecks, stoning, hunger, thirst, cold, fatigue, and many more! Paul really “lays it on,” because of his anger. It has been said that he later regretted having been so outspoken and boasting so much. Supposedly he did not consider this to be one of his better writings. He started out this letter as a “thank-you” to those who had resisted the false teachings, then became sidetracked as he went on to chastise the teachers and those who allowed themselves to be swayed.

All of us become “sidetracked” from time-to-time. The Israelites were, to a major degree; Paul was in this instance we just heard. He admits this as he writes, “I speak foolishly.” We wish that we could always follow the advice we glean from today’s collect, and “put not our trust in anything that we do,” but place ourselves in God’s hands. We then could withhold our outbreaks of temper, and perhaps represent the “good soil,” that was discussed in today’s gospel selection.

We probably all feel that we are the good soil and that God’s word – the “seed” may flourish in us. That is certainly the way we would like it to be.  But could it be that we are the “rocky ground,” or “infested with thorns,” or “located along the footpath where we will be constantly trodden upon,” and that we will be unable to grow the seed? All of us have some of the characteristics of the poor soils. Our lives are too cluttered; we are too rushed; or we have too many other things on our minds. We are “tuning out” too many things we ought to hear. The seed is not flourishing as it should.

There are many “weeds” growing in this world, today. Are we not all appalled at the “bad stuff” that is flourishing? One merely has to glance at a newspaper or listen to news to become quite discouraged. It is hard not to, with the changes that are being accepted in the areas of “same-sex marriage,” transgender issues – including surgery, legalization of marijuana, increase in use of illegal drugs,  and filth in the entertainment media. We have to fight against that tendency to become discouraged.

We should always follow the guidance in our offertory hymn (287) – “Give praise and glory unto God” and realize that “His mercy never waneth.” So doing will help the “good seed” to flourish within us. 

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 156 – “Awake, awake to love and work!”

Gradual – 345, 1st  –  “The King of love my shepherd is”

Offertory – 287 – “Give praise and glory unto God

Communion – 195 – “Father, we thank thee who hast planted”

Recessional – 289 – “O God our help in ages past”

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Jan. 28, 2018                   Septuagesima

Collect: Page 118

O.T. Lesson: Joshua 1:1-9

Epistle: I Corinthians 9:24-27

Gospel: St. Matthew 20:1-16

A sermon by the Rev’d Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael theArchangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia 

“It is just not fair!”

We hear that comment almost every day, usually made by someone who feels that, somehow, he is being cheated in life; maybe in a health situation, or in finances, or in business, or in marriage, or some sort of family situation – or due to some law that seems unfair. We are hearing it today in the Gospel, as the workers in the vineyard “murmur” about their employer.

How many of the following have you heard?

“It isn’t fair! Every one else runs through that stop light and doesn’t get caught! Everyone else is driving ten miles per hour over the speed limit and gets away with it! It’s just not fair that I have to pay a fine!”

“My neighbor’s company paid him to retire early, but I’m still working. That’s just not fair!”

“Why do I have this illness? I have always taken care of myself, watched my diet, exercised, and don’t smoke! It’s just not fair!”

I recall having similar feelings when I was in the Air Force and arriving at my first permanent assignment after ten months of technical schools. I was still just an airman/third class – equivalent of a PFC in the Army. I noticed that a few very “green” airmen arrived fresh out of basic training, and assigned as on-the-job trainees as cooks in the mess halls. I used to run into some of them in the PX or other facilities on the base. I noticed that they were quickly promoted to airmen/second class. I – in a technical field – was not. Before long, I went off for further training to become an aircrewmember – an even more highly technical position – I actually replaced a captain on the crew to which I eventually was assigned! When I returned from school a few months later, I noticed that these fellows had received another promotion – to airmen/ first class – while I remained a third class. I recall thinking that this was not fair. Now – some of this was due to the Air Force “losing” me a couple of time due to the “efficiencies” of the military and also that promotions did not happen when one was in a tech school – but it did seem rather unfair! Soon, I was assigned to an aircrew and my Aircraft Commander immediately had me promoted to airman/second – and eventually to airman/first. But – by that time,  the OJT cooks were now staff sergeants – a rank that I never did achieve.

Our gospel today makes us realize that through mortal eyes, life often does seem unfair. Let’s look at the parable of the vineyard and see if maybe we need to change our way of looking at this “fairness” thing.

To begin, we need to “back up” about four verses from the start of today’s reading, to get the proper perspective on this parable. We find that it was Peter who prompted this reply, by approaching Jesus and asking, “Behold, we have forsaken all and followed Thee; what shall we have, therefore?”

Peter’s question is disappointing, and almost pitiful, as he seems to remind Jesus that the disciples had made some sacrifices, and now wondered what they would receive in return. He asks if they are to be treated in the same manner as those who have lived questionable lives, not watching their morals, ignoring God’s wishes, and then, in the twilight of their lives, have turned to God and repented. Will those people be accepted on the same level as the disciples? Peter’s implication is that such treatment would not be “fair.”

Jesus assures Peter that the disciples who have followed Him will have their place in Heaven with Him, seated on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel; and furthermore, that everyone who has made the great sacrifices will receive back an hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.

This introduction to today’s reading ends with Jesus saying, “Many that are first shall be last and the last shall be first,” or as it is sometimes interpreted, “Behold, I shall make the last things like the first.” There is no preferential order, and no preferential treatment shall be given, based on length of service!

Then, Jesus moves to the parable, which seems to illustrate a real unfairness in life. I doubt very much that employees, and especially labor unions, would tolerate any employer treating his workers as did this householder. And, if he did persist in this kind of treatment, the workers would “wise-up” pretty quickly, and I imagine all of them would soon be coming in at the last hour. No one would show up for a full day’s work. The employer-employee relationship would be devastated!

Let’s look at the players in this parable and analyze the various interactions.

First, did those workers, who had signed on early, have a legitimate complaint? All of these were offered a specific wage for a specific amount of work. They did the work, and received the specified wage. Their accounts were “square.”

The next batch received a bonus, or a gift, as did the final group who signed on. That gift, or bonus, was strictly between the employer and the late-arriving employees, but it caused “murmuring” among the original group. They would have been perfectly happy with their wages; had not the others arrived on the scene. Sometimes we are too concerned, too jealous, actually, about the good fortunes of others.

In this parable, a definite amount was offered and agreed upon in the transaction with the first batch of workers. Others were merely told that they would be paid, “whatever is right.” They must have expected less than those who worked the full term.

One wonders why the landowner ordered payment be made first to those who had worked the least amount of time. That seems like another “unfairness.” It would have been more logical to pay first the ones who arrived first, and let them be on their way. Perhaps then, they would have not even known of the wage discrepancy. But, this was the landowner’s way of showing that all of those who came into his employ were equally valuable to him. He wanted his generosity to be known!

But, of course, this is a parable, and as such, we are not supposed to take it literally. We are to look at it as a puzzle to be solved, giving us insight into some aspect of our relationship with God.

When we cry “unfair” about some circumstance, perhaps we should stop for a moment and consider that to be a cue to start thinking about our own relationship with God. After all, our earthly experiences are all a part of our relationship with the Father! Perhaps we should analyze our reasons for crying “unfair.”

We, who have been involved with the Church for all or most of our lives, may, at some point, begin to feel that we have been “racking-up” points which will get us into Heaven. Because we have been faithful, have made a good effort on the Ten Commandments, we may think that we have “paid our dues,” so to speak. We may even feel that because of our long history of church service, we are assured of a place in Heaven, We are thinking along the same lines as Peter: “What shall we have?”

When we put it on that sort of basis, we are unintentionally “bargaining” with God. We have probably all done this at one time or another. We may even find ourselves, in our prayers, saying, “God, if only You will do this for me, I’ll do “such-and-such” from now on.” That is “bargaining” with God, and if that is the way it is supposed to work, then those “all-day” workers in the vineyard should have received more pay!

We don’t earn our way to salvation by our actions. We gain entrance to the Heavenly Kingdom only by God’s grace and his love for us. We don’t deserve it; we can not do anything to earn it; we can’t buy our way in with good deeds, and not even our long tenure of service will help us, on its own.

Really, all we have to do is to love and worship our Father, accept Christ as our Saviour, and then we will want to do those things, which He would have us to do. The assurance of salvation comes first, then our desire to be good followers. We obey Him because He loves us: He doesn’t love us just because we obey Him.

Still doesn’t seem fair? Well, let’s consider one more aspect. Those of us, who have had Christ in our lives, have had access to a tremendous amount of security, peace, help with problems, assurance, advice, and consolation. We who have known His love and have served Him for a long time should be grateful that we have had that relationship, that extraordinary benefit, for all these years. Latecomers to Christ have missed out on that wonderful sense of discipleship, which we have had. We should not be jealous that they are now having that experience, but glad that they are finally sharing in that which we have had all along.

So it is with the workers. The “all-day” workers received that which was promised: no more, no less. All of the rest were recipients of the landowner’s generosity, an act strictly between him and his workers. What transpired with them should have had no effect on the “all-day” workers.

The relationship each of us has with God also is a “two-party” relationship. We don’t figure in the decision of which others God chooses to accept. It is His “call.” We should, in fact, pray that more people might receive His generous gift. Some of them might be people, whom we do not particularly like, but God loves us all, and we should be pleased when His grace shines upon them.

For, “Many are called” – the opportunity for salvation is open to all; but “Few are chosen” – only those who choose to accept Him will receive the Heavenly benefits.

And, the good works we perform on earth are not the admission price, but rather, the way we show thanks for those benefits!

Amen.

Hymns:

Processional: – 577 – “Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve”

Gradual: – 524 – “God of grace and God of glory”

Offertory: – 560, 2nd tune – “Fight the good fight with all thy might”

Communion: – 189 – “And now, O Father, mindful of the love”)

Recessional: – 276 – “Now thank we all our God”

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Third Sunday after Epiphany               January 21, 2018

Collect: page 112

OT: Isaiah 41:8-10, 17-20

Epistle: Romans 12:16-21

Gospel: St. John 2:1-11

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.

“Yea, I will help thee” (Isaiah 41:10)

          To find a common thread in all the readings today, might take a bit of thinking and searching – but it is there, and may be summed up in one word. That word is “Help.”

          The collect is our prayer for God “to help and defend us,” first recognizing that we have “infirmities” – or weaknesses. We need that help!

          In the Old Testament reading, God assures us that He will “strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea I will uphold thee with the right hand of righteousness.” (Isaiah 41:10) In the opening hymn, we sang of this help: “Father-like he tends and spares us.” (282)

          The epistle takes a little different “tack,” as we hear through Paul, God telling us to provide help to others. “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst give him drink.” (Romans 12:20) Much of this portion has to do with how one should treat an enemy, or someone who has wronged him. He seems to suggest the “kill them with kindness” technique, that most of us probably have difficulty putting into use in such cases. (I do! I usually try to avoid those who have caused me trouble.) We’ll talk a bit more about “kindness” in a few moments.

This epistle is the third in a series from the twelfth chapter of Romans – next week, we’ll hear a continuing portion from the thirteenth chapter. After laying down doctrinal background in the first eleven chapters, in this section Paul shifts to the behavioral aspect of mankind. These three lessons have had to do with (1) “presenting ourselves as living sacrifices,” two weeks ago; (2) being “kindly affectioned one to another,” last week; and (3) “overcoming evil with good,” today. These are guidelines for our behavior. All of these have to do with our relationships with our fellow man – kindness being the prominent thought, today. Next week, Paul will touch on our relationships with government – “higher powers” – and why we should be obedient to civil authority.

In the gospel this morning, we hear Jesus responding to the needs of someone who miscalculated his requirements at a wedding feast, ran out of wine and needed help. Jesus came to the aid of that person in need, and as we will sing in a few moments, performed His first miracle – changing water into wine – to help the host at that function.

So, in these readings, we have asked God for help for ourselves, have received His assurance that He will provide that help, have been told to help others, and have heard of Jesus’ providing help when needed.

Providing help, in these various instances, usually is a physical method of expressing our feeling of kindness to one another. God showed this kindness first, and now we are to reciprocate by performing acts of kindness to His people – to our fellow man.

Most often, when we think of doing something for someone or being of help to someone, we think of physical or perhaps monetary charitable acts. Perhaps this might entail doing something to get someone out of a difficulty, or physical need. It might be providing such things as food, or clothing, perhaps through various agencies. It may be in the form of donating money to a benevolent organization, or volunteering one’s time to help others in hospitals or nursing homes. These are examples of providing physical help to those in need. That’s what Jesus did in today’s example. They needed wine: He provided excellent wine! I have been on the receiving end of this “help” business, many times. I have several neighbors who look out for me – perhaps showing up with a snow shovel when needed. Others keep an eye on me, and if my daily pattern changes – perhaps my paper is not brought in at the usual time – or no lights are on when they should be, Ann will get a call, tipping her off to check on me. This is quite a comfort to us.

Not all help need be a physical response! Sometimes, it is merely a matter of listening, or perhaps – when asked – providing advice. This amounts to being available – making time to talk or listen to someone in need of comforting.

God is kind – Jesus tells us (Luke 6:35) that God “is kind (even) unto the unthankful and to the evil”! Most of us probably have trouble carrying this help/kindness thing that far! Human beings have a great deal of trouble following His example in those instances. Many times we – at least some of us – can’t seem to “feed our enemy” – to be nice to someone who has mistreated us or wronged us in some manner.

There is a strange characteristic in human beings in that we often find it easier to be nice or “kind” to – or to “help” strangers, than we do with family, friends, or even fellow church members. We seem to take them for granted – expect them to understand or overlook our faults.  These are the very people to whom we should be most considerate – to whom we should provide the most “kindness” – the most “help.”  Paul speaks about this in another letter – to the Galatians – “do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” (Gal. 6:10) This “household of faith” includes our friends, our family, and those with whom we associate in church or maybe even at work.

We often hear that we should “forgive and forget” – and we wish we could do just that. Humans, however, find it difficult to forget – but really, the “forgiving” part is what counts. Many of us do not seem to be able to completely forget a wrong against us. We might say, “I can forgive, but I cannot forget.”

Interestingly – and perhaps very fortunately – we do not have to completely overlook or forget people’s shortcomings – we just have to forgive them. And – it does not require our “being nice” to, or accepting – going along with – everything people do. As we have mentioned before – a kind person – one who really cares for another – will want to help him – and this even may necessitate our correcting someone. In Matthew, we read, “…if thy brother trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou shalt have gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15)  “Gaining a brother” should be one of our foremost objectives!

The important aspect of all this is that any “correcting” be done as an act of kindness – with the intention of providing help to one’s fellow man. Therefore, it must be done without ridiculing, or condemning – and in an attitude of compassion, understanding, and being of help to the individual.

Perhaps a good rule for us to follow in our everyday activities and relationships is always to ask, “Will what I am about to do or say, help or hurt this situation?” An honest answer to this question may even provide help to us in making decisions about how to help others!

Amen

 

Hymns:

Processional – 282 – “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven”

Gradual – 497 – “O God of Bethel, by whose hand”

Offertory – 53 – “Songs of thankfulness and praise”

Communion – 198, 1st tune – “O God, unseen yet ever near”

Recessional 363 – “Lord of all hopefulness”

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January 14, 2018                    Second Sunday after Epiphany

Collect: page 111

O.T. Zechariah 8:1-8, 20-23

Epistle: Romans 12:6-16a

Gospel: St. Mark 1:1-11

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him…” (Mark 1:10)

Mark placed a great deal of importance on our Lord’s baptism and therefore began his narration at that point in Jesus’ life. Today’s reading is the tenth verse of his first chapter. Mark sees Jesus’ baptism as His awakening to the full meaning of His vocation and also His becoming fully aware of His unique “Sonship with God.”

Jesus, “Coming out up out of the water, saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit, like a dove, descended upon Him: and there came a voice from Heaven, saying, ‘Thou art My Beloved Son, in Whom I am well-pleased.’” (Mark 1:10-11) Here, God is speaking to Jesus. God and the Holy Spirit are recognizing and proclaiming the Third Member of the Trinity – Jesus, the Son! An important event – and all three members of the Trinity participate! With His baptism, Jesus embarks on His historic work and destiny. This is a very big turning point in the life of our Lord.

Receiving the sacrament of Holy Baptism is an extremely important event in the lives of all of us, also. So – today we will talk a little about baptism – and not just the Baptism of our Lord, but baptism in general: what it is, what it means, and why it is necessary. We learned in the Offices of Instruction, as we prepared for confirmation, that a sacrament has two parts: The outward and visible sign, in this case, water; and an inward and spiritual grace, which in baptism is the rebirth into righteousness.

We usually perform the rite by sprinkling, but total immersion is fine – and is the preferred method in many denominations. The important point is that baptism is required of all of us human beings for salvation. By it, we are made members of Christ’s Body – the Church, the “blessed company of all faithful people,” and “also heirs through hope of the everlasting kingdom” – and thereby guaranteed eternal life. In this rite, we die with Christ and are reborn in Him. It is the personal experience of Easter, given to each of us: the real opportunity to be born anew.

Members of some other denominations occasionally ask us why we Anglicans baptize babies and children, since some of them do not. The answer is found in scripture. In Mark we read, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not; for such is the Kingdom of God,” and from John, “Except anyone be born with water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (John 3:5)

That is very clear and makes it sound pretty important. If one has not been born anew with water and the Holy Spirit, the doors to Heaven will not open to him. And, if we put these two scriptural passages together, we see that they certainly support the idea of infant baptism.

Often, we are asked if that is the case, what happens to babies who die before being baptized. Or, what happens to adults, who for some reason or other, have never been exposed to the Church – have never been baptized, but have led pretty good lives? First, we believe that God, in his infinite wisdom, must have provided for them. (This is one of those situations in which our faith is a big help!) The Church teaches that these persons will not go to Hell. They will have a natural beatitude or blessedness – but somewhat short of Heaven. That is a bit comforting, but should we not strive to make everyone eligible for the life of perfect service in the Heavenly Kingdom? Baptism is the only way to achieve that goal. The mission of the Church is to bring people to baptism: to make them members of Christ’s Body – the Church!

At baptism, there are promises to be made. In the case of an infant, the godparents make these promises on behalf of the child. Godparents should be selected as persons who can be spiritual advisors and assist the parents in bringing up the child in a Christian manner. In the case of an adult, the promises are made in person. In either situation, the vows are reaffirmed at confirmation.

The baptismal vows are not complicated: they are certainly just the basics one should be willing to promise in return for the extraordinary benefits one receives. They are just these three:

To renounce the Devil and all his works;

To believe the articles of the Christian Faith, as outlined in the Apostles’ Creed;

And, to keep God’s Holy Will and Commandments.

If anyone wishes to receive the benefits of baptism, he must accept the responsibilities it requires. Is that not always the case? To receive benefits, one incurs responsibilities. These seem rather minimal.

The canons and common decency require that in dire circumstances of impending death, no one shall be denied baptism, and in fact, any baptized Christian may do it in those circumstances. But, in normal situations, these minimum requirements must be met: repentance, belief, and amendment of one’s ways.

We may wonder as we hear today’s gospel account, why Jesus felt it was necessary for Him to come to John for baptism. After all, He had no sin, and did not need to repent or change His way of life. Baptism, as it had been practiced since Old Testament times, was always connected with repentance, a moral conversion, and a change in the way one would live his life. It was a change from something old and bad to something new and good. Jesus did not have to undergo any of that, but by submitting to baptism, His purpose was to show that He was God’s beloved Son, the Saviour, the Messiah, and the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world. This was a demonstration of His membership in the Trinity, and attested to by the Father and the Holy Spirit as it occurred.

Baptism changes a person. It even changed Jesus! When He rose out of the water, He was pointed in a new direction – started on His mission to redeem all of us. His change was different from ours, in that He was without sin all along. In our case, even as infants, we carry the original sin of the Fall with us at birth, and as adults, we load on more all the time. Baptism regenerates us, frees us from all the sin we carry with us up until that time, and then, as we continue to fall short of the goal, we have Absolution and Holy Communion to provide the forgiveness and refreshing of our souls that we mortals will always need. Our bodies are fed and replenished by Christ’s body every time we receive Holy Communion. Listen to the words as you sing the communion hymn (201) this morning.

Our scheme of baptism, especially for infants, and then confirmation later on which makes us eligible to receive Holy Communion, provides the continuous forgiveness, strengthening, and refreshment that we always seem to need. Jesus’ mission to provide us with all of these heavenly benefits began as “He straightway came up out of the water, saw the heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove, descending upon Him…”

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 545, 1st tune – “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”

Gradual – 10 – “On Jordan’s bank the Baptists cry”

Offertory –418 – “Blest are the pure in heart”

Communion – 201 – “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands”

Recessional – 51– “We three kings of Orient are”

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January 7, 2018                      First Sunday after Epiphany
Collects: pages 109 and 107
O.T. Proverbs 8:22-35
Epistle: Romans 12:1-5
Gospel: St. Luke 2:41-52

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Grant that they…perceive and know what things they ought to do…” (collect) 

All of us need some guidance in our lives. Without it we may get into all kinds of trouble! Christian believers have a ready source of that guidance. In today’s collect, we pray that we may perceive and fulfill God’s will: that we may carry out His wishes and “know what things we ought to do” – that we may allow Him to guide us. The epistle amplifies the same theme as Paul tells us we must learn what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God and that our behavior be so guided.

If we are to allow God to lead us, we must be aware of the two-part process that is mentioned in the collect. We must first perceive what God wants us to do. And for most of us, that part is not very difficult. We usually know what He would have us to do in our everyday routines. There are those situations in which we are “stumped,” and must ask for guidance, but for most of our decisions the answer is obvious in simple everyday matters of right and wrong. That determination of His desires is the easy part. It is the second part that gives us the trouble and requires us to ask for more help – prayers that we may have the grace and power to fulfill his wishes – to follow through on “what He would have us to do.”

It is this turning over of our actions to God, which is hard. We have to make the effort to do something: maybe to visit someone sick in a nursing home or hospital; to spend time helping someone with a project in which we are not particularly interested; to go shopping or run errands for someone who needs help. Or, perhaps God is telling us to avoid doing something that we wish to do! How about all of those “Thou shalt nots” in the Ten Commandments?

Yes, it is the behavioral aspect that becomes difficult to follow; completing what we know to be God’s wishes – “following through.”

The epistle today is the first of a series of four consecutive weekly readings from Paul about our responsibilities toward God, toward society, and toward higher powers. During the next four weeks, we will hear Him addressing these responsibilities and emphasizing how they all tie together.

We have to confess our sins to God – but that is not enough. We must present ourselves, Paul says, as living sacrifices unto God, turning over our minds and bodies to Him. We must think through our options and then act on them. James, in his letter (4:17), carries this a bit further as he says it is a sin to know what is good and proper and not to act on it. Luke (12:47) and John (13:17) make very similar statements in their Gospel accounts.

John says, “Happy are ye if ye know these things and do them.”

What James, John, and Luke are saying is that when we hear about God, really get to know Him, we take on an obligation to follow His wishes.

These writers are telling us that we, who are believers, have more of an obligation to obey than do those who are as yet “unchurched,” those to whom Christ has not yet been introduced.

We see so often today, individuals “picking and choosing” what they wish to believe regarding the Church, and morals, and religion in general. Humans seem so able to interpret things to suit their wishes. They need to listen to God’s words – His instructions. Some seem to wander around from church to church, looking for one that won’t be too critical – perhaps one that even condones behavior that, deep down, they know to be contrary to God’s wishes. Have you not heard people complain that this church or that church is not “keeping up with the times?” I have heard people say that about us – here at St. Michael’s. Those persons are being “conformed” to modern morals. And, tragically, there are organized church groups today that not only condone, but also even encourage the decline in morals, through twisted interpretation of scripture. They seem to be able to “skew” scripture to suit their own pre-conceived notions of what they would like to have accepted as proper behavior! Are we not supposed to be guided by the Church and its teachings? Are these people not reversing the roles, when they put things in this order of priority? They are looking for, or maybe even changing, a church, to suit themselves, rather than listening to what the Church says, and then changing their behavior to meet the requirements. Is that not the reason for the existence of the Diocese of the Holy Cross – and others like us? Our former affiliations changed into forms that we were unable to accept.

There are actions that the Church clearly teaches to be wrong, in violation of the Commandments and scripture in general, that people seem to be able to “work around,” or even for which they can find some other “countering” scriptural basis for forgiveness or excusing oneself for a particular action. We often see examples of this today, as we find churches and their clergy speaking in favor of what we know to be absolutely immoral actions. Example: the increasing number of churches supporting homosexual behavior.  And, if one speaks out against such behavior, he is likely to hear from someone, “Judge not, that ye be not judged…” That warning, from Matthew’s gospel (7:1-6) is often misinterpreted as meaning we never are to render an opinion as to someone’s behavior. That is pure rubbish – of course we are! Scripture is loaded with instructions or exhortations to “mark those who cause divisions among you…and avoid them,” (Romans 16:17) and to “have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” (Ephesians 5:11) We are told to “receive… not into your house,” those who “abideth not in the doctrine of Christ,” (2 John 9-10) and to “withdraw …from every brother that walketh disorderly,” (Thessalonians 3:6) to “exhort,” to “rebuke,” and so on. We are to judge ourselves, of course, but also others, who fail in their spiritual responsibilities. Reading the entire portion of Matthew’s commentary on judgment will give us the message that we are to point out behavior failures to our fellow man – to do so is to perhaps save him from eternal damnation! That’s a pretty big thing one may do for another! It is a requirement of church discipline. We should not just look the other way when our friends and family are committing errors that we know to be serious. “Whosoever… teach (the Commandments)…shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) Oh yes – we are to be teachers of our fellow man.

What we are not to do is to use ourselves as the standard by which we judge others. We are not to criticize others for actions of which we are also guilty. This is what Matthew meant by “getting the beam out of one’s own eye,” (Matthew 7:3) before judging others.

During Epiphany, we find two primary themes running through the propers. First, we celebrate Jesus’ introduction to the world. Epiphany means “manifestation” or “appearance.” Generally, it means a sudden realization. In the Church, we spend the next four weeks concentrating on the early years of Jesus’ life. Traditionally, we remember the visit of the Magi to the newborn Jesus, His baptism, His first miracle at Cana, and today, His introduction to the Temple. These are the subjects of the gospel readings for the upcoming weeks: Jesus’ manifestation to the world.

At the same time, the epistles will be emphasizing the second theme we have been discussing – our personal response to our own relationship with God: how we should act, as people who have had the Epiphany experience – the realization that Jesus is God.

So, these two themes will be intermingling as we proceed through Epiphany: the manifestation of Christ to us, and our personal relationship with God. These are the keys to Christian living.  If we recognize Jesus as the Saviour, as the Magi believed Him to be, and if we act on God’s wishes for us, we will be following a Christian life.

Let us place God in control throughout all aspects of our lives! If we start now, as Epiphany begins, perhaps we will have an enrichment of the entire season – maybe a whole new Epiphany experience!

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 153 – “Christ, whose glory fills the skies”

Gradual – 46 (1st) – “Brightest and best of the sons of the morning”

Offertory – 298, 1st tune – “The great Creator of the worlds”

Communion – 348 – “Jesus, gentle Saviour” (1, 5, 7)

Recessional – 301 – “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”

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December 31, 2017                 1st Sunday after Christmas

Collect: pp. 104

O.T. Isaiah 9:2-7

Epistle: Galatians 4:1-7

Gospel: St. Matthew 1:18-25

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Almighty God, who hast given us thy only-begotten Son to take our nature upon him…and to born of a pure virgin” (collect)

          This season of the Twelve Days of Christmas contains some feast days with especially rich and interesting scripture lessons: St. Stephen, St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, The Holy Innocents, and The Circumcision of Christ, which is tomorrow – New Year’s Day.

Often, this first Sunday after Christmas occurs on one of those feast days, so we do not celebrate the First Sunday after Christmas – as such – very often. All of these are important feasts of the Church, and it is interesting to see the way they fit together. With one exception, there is a common connector. Other than St. Stephen’s Day, all of the portions of scripture dealing with these feasts seem to center around babies and children, which are symbols of the central point of the Christmas Season – the Incarnation: Christ coming among us, taking on the form of a human – or as the collect for Christmas reads, “taking our nature upon Him.”

It is interesting that the collect for today, begins with the reference to our Lord’s coming to us as a baby, and then it jumps to the concept of our being God’s children by adoption. This collect is appointed for Christmas Day, and is used daily, after any other appointed collects, throughout the Christmas Octave. It sets the theme for the Christmas season: Christ coming to us as a child, our being made children of the Father, and then daily renewal by action of the Holy Spirit. This is another example of the workings of the Holy Trinity.

The epistle also picks up the “child” theme, pointing out that, until he comes of age, a child is similar to a servant, in that he is under bondage until that time, and then he becomes really free. When we were “children,” which in this sense means before the arrival of Christ, we were in bondage under the elements of this world. Then God sent His Son, “Made of a woman,” we read. Through this Baby, the child Jesus, we have been freed, and now have become adoptive sons of God. Notice how Mary is recognized for her participation in God’s plan – “Made of a woman.” The Church teaches that there are different roles for men and women. They are not interchangeable, as some would have us believe, but they are equally important, and this key position of Mary in the Incarnation scheme emphasizes that extraordinary role that women play.

The gospel reading for today, from Matthew, is the story of the birth of Christ, and the appearance of the angel to Joseph, in a dream, explaining the miraculous events that would come to pass, and that Jesus would be the Savior of His people. These events fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah, that “A little child shall lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6)

All of the scripture appointed for today, then, has to do with mothers (especially Mary) and children and babies – all significant of the method chosen by God for the Incarnation to occur. The propers for most of the other feast days that fall during Christmas also seem to carry out the same theme of the Incarnation and children and babies and mothers.

Let’s take a quick look at each of these feast days from this season:

St. John, whose feast we celebrated on Wednesday, is the writer of the Fourth Gospel and also the three epistles bearing his name. Of all the gospel writers, he puts forth the strongest case for the Incarnation. His theme in his Gospel account is that of Jesus as the Son of God. And as he opens his first epistle, he implies that he was an eyewitness to the Word made Flesh. This is the Incarnation.

The Holy Innocents were remembered Thursday. These were the children slain by Herod as he tried to eliminate the Messiah. In the gospel reading for that day, we read that Joseph had been warned of this action in a dream and had spirited his little family out of the country and into Egypt. The Holy Innocents: children!

Tomorrow is the Circumcision of Christ – a rigid rite required by Jewish Law as a sign of inclusion in the Jewish religious community. It is another important symbol of infancy.

Of all these occasions, only St. Stephen’s Day, which occurred on Tuesday, does not have a close link to children and infants. Supposedly, Stephen’s day was placed the day after Christmas as a tribute to his being the first Martyr, the first to give his life for the Redeemer. The first deacon of the Church, and its first martyr!

But, the real meaning of this season is the coming of God, in the form of His Son, taking on the nature of a human being, with all of the characteristics of man. This is the Incarnation, and we must remember that Jesus is totally human, in every aspect, with one major exception – He is completely without sin!

As I mentioned on Christmas, sometimes we may wonder why Jesus appeared to us in the form of a newborn baby. Why did He not just appear or step out of a crowd as an adult? Why was He born just as any other child? Why is such emphasis placed on His family and Mary’s Virginity? Why was there no room at the inn, thereby making it necessary for the birth to take place in a stable?

Well, let’s think about the symbolism here. It is sometimes helpful in analyzing situations such as this, to ask “Why not?” What if the Christmas story had not unfolded as it did? Is there not important symbolism in every facet of the Nativity of our Lord?

Would the impact of our Lord’s arrival have been anywhere nearly as pronounced had He come to us in any other way? Probably not! The arrival as a baby stresses the peaceful, humble aspect of Christ. To emphasize this even further, the event was made even more humble, by taking place in a stable. Could anyone think of a more humble beginning?

This is one of God’s surprises or “tricks.” Many expected the promised Messiah to be a strong, militant leader who would rush in and overthrow the Romans. They weren’t expecting this kind of humility in their Savior, nor were many expecting a little baby.

The Virginity of Mary is symbolic of her purity, her being untouched by the sins and lapses of this world. “Our Lord’s Most Pure and Holy Mother” could be described this way only under the circumstances as they actually did come to pass. Because of her vital role in the Incarnation of our Lord, she also plays an important part in the life of the Church, even today, as we ask her to intercede for us in our prayers to her Son. Is that not a logical role for a mother to play? As Bishop Paul Hewett often says, “Who better than someone’s mother could you ask to put in a good word for you?”

Here at St. Michael’s, as in many Anglican churches, we recite the Angelus at the end of our services each Sunday. Some people mistakenly believe that this is “praying to Mary,” and we know that we are not to pray to anyone other than the Deity. However, as one reads the Angelus, he will see that the prayer portion of this recitation is addressed to God. We pray only to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. The reference to Mary is a request that she pray for us, also. Do we not ask others to pray for us in many situations? We ask friends and relatives to keep us in their prayers. We ask our congregations to pray for the sick or those in need. Why do we do that, if we think intercessions are not helpful? (Most of us feel we need all the help we can get!) If we believe in the Communion of Saints, which we acknowledge in the Creed, then we believe that those who have gone before are still with us through that Communion, and certainly we may ask them to pray for us. Why not use Mary as an intercessor? This is a wonderful benefit of Mary having played such an important role in the bringing of Christ to us.

Child, Mother, Father – these are the players in most of the readings throughout this Christmas season of the Church. I often use a bidding prayer for Christmas, parts of which I picked up from Father Geoffrey Neal. It mentions “Our Savior being born in human form,” requests prayer for our “children, that they may know the love of Christ,” and recognizes that the “Shepherds, Angels, and Wise Men adored the Holy Child.” This prayer captures the essence of the Christmas theme, and again, this theme is the Incarnation, symbolized by newborn babies, children, and the entire family relationship and structure.

As we continue through the remainder of the Christmas Season, let us keep the Incarnation of our Lord as the central focus of our prayers and meditations.

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 19, 2nd tune – “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear”

Gradual – 31 – “Good Christian Men, Rejoice”

Offertory – 236 – “Once in Royal David’s City”

Communion – 20 – “Of the Father’s Love Begotten”

Recessional – 42 – “Angels We Have Heard on High”

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December 24/25, 2017

Christmas Eve Midnight                                                Christmas Day

Collect: p. 98                                                        Collect: 96

OT: Isaiah 9:2-7                                                   Epistle: Hebrews 1:1-12

Epistle: Titus 2:11-15                                          Gospel: St. John 1:1-14

Gospel: St. Luke 2:1-14

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.

“The ‘Real’ Meaning of Christmas!”

The day that we celebrate (today/tonight) is listed in the Book of Common Prayer as “The Nativity of our Lord, or the Birthday of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day.” What we really celebrate – and what you hear me emphasize each year – is the Incarnation of Christ – His coming to earth and taking on the form and flesh of a human being. The central theme of this feast – regardless of what name we give it – is this Incarnation.

At this time of the year, we hear discussions about the meaning of Christmas, or the significance of this important holiday. It seems that everyone has his own idea, and many of these center on “love” or “peace” or “generosity.” We find “love” and “peace” as the central themes of many of the Christmas cards we receive. This is often thought of as “The Christmas Spirit.” These are good qualities – certainly ones of which we want to see more, but they are not quite the real “essence” of this season. These deal with how man relates to man. The titles of this feast, as listed in the Book of Common Prayer both refer to the arrival of Christ. So, really what we are celebrating is that God came among us, in the form of His Son. More importantly, we recognize that in so doing, He became fully human in order to atone for our sins and to assure His believers that we would have a place with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom. He did not give up his divinity, but remained fully divine and became fully human. We refer to this as “The Incarnation,” and it deals with God’s relationship with man.

The Incarnation is God’s coming to earth and taking on human form. It took place at the instant Mary responded to the angel Gabriel. This was her agreement to take on the responsibility for which God had chosen her. She could have said “no,” but she merely asked, “How can this be?” and listened to a very brief explanation and agreed, with that wonderful response that we repeat every time we recite the Angelus: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” That is the reason the Angelus is so important – so dear to us – it is Mary’s agreement to be the instrument for the Incarnation! From that very moment on, Christ was a human being on earth, in the womb of Mary. We know that, because of the account we read in St. Luke’s gospel, about Mary’s visit, shortly after the Annunciation, to her cousin Elisabeth, who was pregnant also – with John – the “John” we know as “John the Baptist.” When Mary greeted her cousin, Elisabeth was aware that “the babe leaped in her womb for joy,” apparently sensing that Christ was nearby.

So, (tonight/today), we celebrate Christ’s birth – His being introduced to the world – but He had been in existence before that event, although not in human form. All three members of the Trinity had been in existence all along. Jesus was not begotten for just this mission!

All of these Holy Mysteries surrounding Christ’s conception and birth are fascinating, but (tonight’s/today’s) emphasis should not be so much on how God accomplished all of this – that’s easy – with God all things are possible. Gabriel made that clear as he talked with Mary: “For with God, nothing shall be impossible.” (Luke 1:37) No, we should be more interested in why He did it – that aspect has more to do with the meaning of Christmas. That is the central point of God’s relationship with man – His love for us! We should want to give thanks that He did do it, because of this love!

The arrival of the Messiah had been prophesied way back in the Old Testament – in the seventh chapter of Isaiah, we read, “The Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (Tonight/today,) we celebrate the fulfillment of that prophecy. Immanuel – “God with us!” – this is the meaning of Christmas in one word!

In discussing the meaning of Christmas, we have to wonder why God opted to send His Son in the manner He chose. We wonder why – of all the methods He could have chosen – why this lowly Virgin Birth, in a stable or a cave. Why such an ordinary arrival, born as any other human?

Like so many other Biblical events about which we might wonder, “why” this way or “why” that way, the real answer is that this is the way God chose to do it. We do not need to know the “whys” of everything! He chose to reveal Himself to us in this manner, and we are thankful that He did so – regardless of method!

Throughout our preparatory season of Advent, we have been discussing the two “comings” of Christ. (Tonight/today,) we are celebrating that first Coming, rejoicing that it took place, and recognizing that it was the arrival of that Saviour promised to us. We must keep in mind, however that our preparation should always be underway for the Second Coming. We should, therefore, continue with all of the preparatory actions we have begun during the Advent Season, and be uplifted in knowing that Christ is here to guard us and help us. God loves us, and because of that love, He came to be among us. That is the “real meaning of Christmas!” Immanuel – God with us!

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 12 – “O Come all ye faithful”

Gradual – 21 (2nd tune) – “O little town of Bethlehem”

Offertory – 19 (2nd tune) “It came upon a midnight clear”

Communion – 33 – “Silent Night”

Recessional – 27 “Hark! the herald angels sing”

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December 24, 2017                             4th Sunday in Advent

Collects: p. 95 and 90

OT: Isaiah 40:1-11

Epistle: Philippians 4:4-7

Gospel: St. John 1:19-28

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“With great might succour us; …we are sore let and hindered…” (collect)

The collect today seems to be a desperate plea for our Lord to help us, and is most appropriate for this last Sunday in Advent, as we ask Him to come among us. “Raise up, we pray thee, thy power,” it begins. We acknowledge that He has the power to help us, and also we admit to really needing His help. We are hindered in running the race that is set before us, because we are sinful and wicked. We read that we are “sore let.” “Sore let” is an old expression meaning very much hindered or greatly impeded in accomplishing some task. In this case we admit that it is our flaws in obedience, or our not caring – or not “loving our neighbors as ourselves,” that produce the problem. We recognize that this “great might” is able to succour us – help us – give us aid in “running the race that is set before us.”

The Old Testament lesson today is from Isaiah – and begins with a very important turning point in that book, The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah are very judgmental prophesies about the immoral behavior of the people in Judah and the surrounding nations – and indeed the whole world. Then – with the opening verse of today’s selection, it turns to a message of hope, which continues throughout the remaining twenty-seven chapters – and the key to this hope is that the Messiah is coming. After a wonderful opening to this portion, “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith the Lord,” (40:1) we heard a prophecy of our Lord’s coming – “Prepare ye way of the Lord.” (40:3) And then follows a description of this “comfort” – “He shall feed His flock like a shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom.” (40:11) And, we know that indeed this prophecy did come to pass, as Jesus often described Himself as the “good shepherd who knows his sheep, and is known by them.” (John 10:14) Incidentally, this passage also is found in the gospel appointed for ordination to the priesthood – another “shepherd/sheep” relationship.

So, we have here a picture of our Lord, as one who is very strong, possesses great might and strength, and whom we pray may come among us because of that strength. Our Lord also is very gentle, bringing us into His arms and close to His bosom.

This tough/gentle combination is something we often see. We see it in families, where parents can be – and usually are – very gentle and understanding with their children, but exhibit sternness when the need arises – today, I believe it is called “tough love.” We see it in the medical field – the gentle “bedside manner” of medical personnel sometimes has to be displaced with a more vigorous approach in order to facilitate a cure or relieve pain. Occasionally, I would run into that situation in my practice of dentistry.

The epistle today, is very upbeat, as Paul urges that we rejoice, because the Lord is coming! – and Paul always seemed to think it was imminent! Here he is speaking of the Second Coming – remember there are two comings of Christ, and during Advent, we hear a great deal about both. He tells us not to worry, be happy, be good to all men, be prayerful – and do not be “down in the dumps.” Paul himself usually managed to keep rejoicing, whether he was in prison or in a palace – in sickness or in health or in times of poverty or plenty. To him, joy was a fruit of the Spirit, and resulted from being at peace with God, which he always was.

This epistle closes with that same encouraging phrase that is in the blessing that we use at the end of every celebration of the Holy Eucharist – “the peace of God which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ.” This peace of God is not quite the same as having peace with God. Probably all – well, maybe not all, but most Christians have peace with God – or are “at peace” with Him. This other peace is a peace which God has and which Christ gives, as we read in John’s gospel “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” (John 14:27). This peace is a certain tranquility deep inside us that we get from really feeling God’s presence within us. Not all Christians are able to feel it. Most of us have known people who do seem to have received it, and they seem to exude a sense of holiness that the rest of us do not. This is the sort of peace that Paul seemed to possess.

This quality seems to exist throughout the lives of some people. It is with them from birth. Others may not have it until some sort of conversion or change takes place in their lives. And, I suppose the reverse can happen also – one may lose his faith, and with it goes that inner peace. Fortunately, I don’t think that happens very frequently!

We all feel the presence of the Holy Spirit – of God – here in our church and at other times and places. But, I am not referring to just that peace. I’m talking of something much deeper, and I would imagine most of us have known only a handful of truly Holy people. These are the ones of whom I am speaking. It is something for which we should all strive.

The phrase, “keep your hearts and minds, as used here, means “keep them safe,” “guard them,” or “protect your hearts and minds” – through Christ Jesus, the Agent through whom this may be done.

Today’s gospel selection is interesting because it is a reversal of the gospel account last week. Last Sunday, we heard John wondering whether Jesus really was “He that should come,” or should the search continue. This week, we hear of an event that actually took place a year or so earlier, as the Jews sent priests and Levites to ask John just who he was. Was he perhaps Christ? Or the prophet foretold in Deuteronomy? His response is that he is the forerunner of Him who will come and as such is fulfilling the prophecy found in Isaiah, “Make straight the way of the Lord.”

So, there is an interesting aspect of these readings today: all of them seem to have a connection with Advent and the coming of Christ and Christmas – however they do not seem to relate to one another. There is not a central theme this week, other than that Christ is coming, and coming to comfort us, and actually to save us! Not a bad theme!

As we consider this “coming,” we need to keep in mind the two “comings of Christ.” John’s predictions and mention of preparing the highway in the desert had to do with the first, when Jesus came in great humility. That is where His gentleness was so evident – as He arrived in the form he did – a babe in a manger. At that point, He was as helpless as any newborn baby. The Second Coming will be a bit different, as He will come to judge, and see how well we have run that race that was set before us. Paul is referring to this one, as he writes to the Philippians.

We sang about this Second Coming in our gradual hymn (4) “Rejoice, rejoice, believers!” and will do so, again in our final hymn (5) this morning – “Lo! He comes with clouds descending.” These are great hymns of the Second Advent! Think about it as you sing the words!

As we reach this fourth Sunday in Advent, we are almost ready to celebrate Christ’s birth – His First Coming. We will do that when we return this evening and tomorrow. But our symbolism has begun to swing to the Second Coming, as we receive these reminders of how we are supposed to conduct ourselves, and that Christ will be coming to judge us on our behavior. We have used this season to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the Messiah, but now we must shift gears, think more about the bigger picture. We should continue to evaluate ourselves, prepare ourselves, and be ready when “He shall come again in His glorious majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead.” (Advent collect)

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 2 – “O come, O come, Emmanuel”

Gradual – 4 – “Rejoice, rejoice, believers!”

Offertory – 3 – “Wake, awake, for night is flying”

Communion – 197 – “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”

Recessional – 5, 1st tune – “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending”

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December 17, 2017                   3rd Sunday in Advent

Collects: p. 93 and 90

OT: Isaiah 35

Epistle: I Corinthians 4:1- 5

Gospel: St. Matthew 11:2 – 10

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Ministers and Stewards of the Holy Mysteries of God” (collect)

          The propers and theme of this Third Sunday in Advent tie in with the Advent Ember Days, which begin this Wednesday. Ember Days, as you know, are observed four times each year – after the first Sunday in Lent, Whitsunday, in the Fall, and in Advent – and consist of a Wednesday, a Friday, and a Saturday, at each of these times. These are days of fasting and prayer for specific purposes. In our times, the primary focus is on the ordained ministry – and that “many will be called” to that ministry. When first observed, in the Third Century, there were only three “sets” of Ember Days each year and these were probably holdovers from the earlier pagan festivals having to do with harvest, wine-making, and planting. The exact purpose of the celebrations at that time is not very clear, but by the Fifth Century, the present focus on ordinations was firmly settled. Interestingly, in 1969, the Roman Catholic Church eliminated the traditional Ember Days, and replaced them with days of prayer for various needs as determined by their bishops. The Anglican and Episcopal groups have continued on as before, with prayer that “many will offer themselves for this ministry.”

So, our propers today have been placed here to coordinate with that “ministry” theme. Listen to some of the wording we hear today.

The collect is interesting right from the start, as we hear it addressed to Jesus Christ – one of a very few collects in the Book of Common Prayer that are addressed to Him. Most collects address “Almighty God,” “Merciful Father,” “O Lord,” or just “God.” This one speaks to Jesus Christ, and acknowledges that He has sent His “Messenger” to prepare the way for Him – Messenger – an aide, an assistant – a type of “minister.” The next line speaks of “ministers and stewards” of His mysteries, who “prepare and make ready the way.”

The epistle echoes a great deal of the same wording, as Paul describes himself and the other Apostles as “Ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.”  (I Cor. 4:1) He emphasizes that the Apostles are merely servants of Christ, employed in doing His work, and sent on His errand, to dispense the mysteries of God. These mysteries are those truths that had been hidden from the world in ages and generations past. Paul makes clear his role – the Apostles role – the “minister’s role – that of being an aide or assistant, or steward. The Greek term for “minister” used by Paul in this particular instance carried the connotation of being a subordinate or servant. Actually, the expression Paul used was “under rower” – referring to the rowers – the oarsmen – of Roman galleys, who took their orders from the officer stationed a level above them on the ship. There were other words for “minister” that Paul used in other places, and which did not have quite the same meaning. Here he is clearly trying to use a very humbling term. He emphasizes the meaning then, by using the term, “stewards.”

A steward, as the word usually was used, referred to a slave or servant in the master’s household who was entrusted with property or money. Both “minister” and “steward” emphasize subordination to the master. However, in the use of “steward,” there is a particular stress on accountability. The “steward” had to render an account for the manner in which he carried out his master’s orders. The steward was the person who disbursed salaries to the laborers in the household, for instance – was accountable for his master’s money. “Stewards are expected to show themselves trustworthy,” (I Cor. 4:2) we read in the New English Bible. They had a great deal of responsibility, but definitely were subordinates.

Paul is quick to point out that he does not care much about what anyone else feels about him, as long as his Master – the Lord – is satisfied with his actions when He finally “comes again in his glorious majesty,” and passes judgment. This is a warning that human judgment doesn’t mean a thing. When the Lord comes, and reaches into our minds – “the hidden things of darkness” of each of us – He will determine how much praise we might receive – if we receive any at all!

All of this discussion of “ministers” and “stewards” – although it is in today’s readings primarily because of the upcoming Ember Days – also fits in with our Advent preparation for Christmas – that dual theme of Christ’s Comings – at Christmas, and again at the time of His return to be our Judge. We must be good stewards if we are to earn a place in the Heavenly Kingdom. Like the stewards in the household must account to their master, so too, we must give an account, when our Master comes! We must all be ministers of Christ – do His work here on earth as we spread His Gospel, and bring others into the fold. All of us are commissioned to do that – not just the ordained ministry!

Moving to the Gospel reading, we find reference to one of God’s early “ministers,” sent to perform a specific task. John the Baptist was sent to be the “forerunner” – to pave the way – to announce to the world that Christ was coming! While in prison, John sent two of his disciples to find out – to clear up for him – whether or not Jesus is the expected One. They asked directly, “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3)  Jesus’ reply is that it is self-evident – tell John that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised up.” (Matt. 11:5)  This is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Isaiah 29:18, 35:5, and 61:1). Then follows quite a testimony for John, by Jesus, as He tells the crowd of followers that John is a prophet, and much more – he is the messenger sent to prepare the way for Him.

We heard some of that Old Testament prophecy in our first reading from Isaiah this morning – “the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” (35:5) we also hear prophecy of God coming with vengeance for those who have mistreated His people, and with recompense for those who have suffered. We hear the strong assurance – “He will come and save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

We must be in a constant state of readiness for the coming of the Lord! By observing the seasons of the Church year, especially Advent, we are reminded of the need to be ready. It is disappointing that this season is not observed by more people – observed as a season of spiritual preparation for Christmas. Everyone today seems so involved in the material preparation – the social and physical activity – that the spiritual side is crowded out, and of course, many denominations do not observe the Advent season.

We are fortunate that we do observe it, and the Advent hymns can help set our minds on a proper preparation for this coming of our Lord. We just sang, in the gradual hymn (9), “A thrilling voice is sounding; ‘Christ is nigh,’ it seems to say.” We then hear the admonition to “Cast away the works of darkness” – the familiar command from the Advent collect – and then a promise that He “comes with pardon down from heaven.” He will “shield us with his mercy and draw near with words of love.”

This “casting away the works of darkness,” is often through our eyes being opened, more light being poured into the shadows of our minds. How does this occur? Through what agents can this happen? It is the ministers, the stewards, and the messengers – all of us – who are instruments, through which the light is poured on others, revealing previously hidden mysteries.

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 10 – “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry”

Gradual – 9 – “Hark! a thrilling voice is sounding”

Offering – 236 – “Once in royal David’s city”

Communion – 211 – “Come with us, O blessèd Jesus” (twice)

Recessional – 1 – “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”

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December 10, 2017                           2nd Sunday in Advent

Collects: p. 92 and 90

OT: Isaiah 55

Epistle: Romans 15:4-13

Gospel: St. Luke 21:25-33

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Come ye to the waters…buy…without money” (Isaiah 55:1)

          The Old Testament lesson this morning opens with a strange suggestion or actually – an invitation: “Come ye to the waters…buy…without money and without price.” We may wonder what this means –what is this business about “coming to the waters, and buying food and drink – and other goods – without any money?

In this instance, “coming to the waters” refers to the wharves, docks, and piers where ships would tie up and distribute their cargoes. The implication is that we may just wander about the displayed items and pick up anything that we might find appealing – without paying. As we move further into this passage, however, we might start to grasp what really is being said here. This is not about buying material things with money – it is a metaphoric passage about God’s Word; our Saviour; religious values; and Holy Scripture! All of this is available “without price”!

Then, we are cautioned against spending our money for that which is not bread. The “bread” in this passage is scripture. The “money” is our time and efforts – not cold, hard cash! We are being told not to waste our efforts on things that are not important. Does that not seem appropriate today – with all the “drivel” to which we are exposed? Think of television, movies, modern music – even printed news media. It is mostly inane – often useless and frequently of a sensational nature! Remember the quote from Benjamin Franklin – “Believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see.”  That quotation is more appropriate today than it was in Franklin’s time. All right – maybe not – perhaps it has always been that way – I suppose so, or Franklin would not have commented on it. We should seek the “real bread” – the truly important things in life. This is another reminder of what is important at this time of the year, especially – as we prepare for and anticipate the birth of Our Lord. Our thoughts should be on Him.

We undergo many “swings” in our lives – various “ups and downs” in our personal situations, and as a nation, that affect our thinking, and just how we are fitting God into our lives at a particular time. Are we seeking that “real bread”?

Often – in a period of economic downturn, or an act of violence such as we experienced on September 11, 2001, or national tragedy such as a devastating storm or fire – people become discouraged and depressed – but such events might actually inspire many to seek the “true bread.”

Those of us of a certain age are reminded that during the Second World War, people certainly sought the Church to a degree that many had not previously. They were starved for the “real bread” in a time of danger and sorrow. In the towns where my family lived during the war, the churches were filled on Sundays, often with standing room only. We just commemorated December 7 – the seventy-sixth anniversary of our entry into that war. As I do every year at this time, I recall that period of my life rather vividly. That terrible war brought many people closer to God. Exercising their faith was “real bread” for many people, and it was available “without money.” I know of several priests and ministers of other denominations who went off to war as fighting men and came back to attend seminaries, and then became “soldiers” in another type of war. Their war experiences had made them aware – and “hungry” for the “real bread.”

We have all heard the expression, “there are no atheists in foxholes.” That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there is no doubt that many men did meet God for the first time in such situations. So too, did many on the home front reach out to God for the first time, as they prayed for the safety of loved ones – and sought the Church as the most effective means of doing so – sought the “true bread.”

This “true bread” – scripture – is a feature in the other readings this morning, also. We read in the collect – the Lord “hast caused all holy scripture to be written for our learning.” The epistle mentions “the things that were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope,” (Romans 15:4) and then gives us a very seasonal prediction of our Lord’s First Coming: “There shall be a root of Jesse, and he shall rise to reign over the Gentiles; in him shall the Gentiles trust.” (15:12) In the gospel from Luke, we hear of the signs that will predict His Second Coming and then Christ Himself telling us, “My words will not pass away.”  (Luke 21:33) My words – scripture – the “true bread”!

All of this emphasis on scripture originally led to this Sunday being known as “Bible Sunday,” throughout the world – although today it is recognized on different dates by many denominations. We don’t think of it so much in that manner in the Anglican tradition – we are more concerned with the Advent season right now – but it is a prominent feature of today’s propers, and Advent is a good time to be thinking of scripture. Bible reading should be a part of our Advent discipline – our preparation for Christmas.

The Church recognizes four ancient Advent themes: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Our scripture today touches on all of these, and in fact, the Advent collect mentions that Christ will “come again in His glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,” and we pray that “we may rise to the life immortal.”  At death, we face that judgment, which will determine our outcome – heaven or hell. The readings today and throughout the Advent season can help us receive a favorable outcome at that judgment – if we truly take them to heart.

As we move deeper into the Advent season, let us keep before us these four themes: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. They will help keep us focused on the “big picture” – the “true bread.”

From time to time, all of us probably find ourselves in need of a little extra help – perhaps encouragement when we are a bit “low” or facing some sort of setback. We Christians know where to find the help we need. Our opening hymn this morning addresses it very nicely. (Hymn 402) We have that “Word of God, incarnate,” to help us through the rough spots. We have that “Lantern to our footsteps,” to light the way through difficult times.

So, perhaps when things are not going as well as we wish or when things even seem quite bleak, we may use that time to focus closely on determining just what is important in our lives. Actually, that is what Advent is supposed to be. It is the time of the year for us to look forward to the arrival of the Messiah – Our Lord and Savior – the “True Bread,” which comes to us at no cost on our part. He has paid the price – and for Him it was not a “no cost” situation!

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 402 – “O Word of God incarnate”

Gradual – 544 – “Thy kingdom come, O God”

Offering – 4 – “Rejoice, rejoice, believers!”

Communion – 202, 2nd tune –“Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord”

Recessional – 5, 1st tune – “Lo! He comes, with clouds descending”

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December 3, 2017                                     1st Sunday in Advent

Collect: p. 90

OT: Isaiah 28:14-22

Epistle: Romans 13:8-14

Gospel: St. Matthew 21:1-13

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

 “Love is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Romans 11:10)

          Last Sunday, we touched a little on the meaning of Advent, and in particular, how we might use the Advent season to prepare for Christmas. Because of the commercialism that has affected so many people’s attitudes toward Christmas, many do not use the Advent season as they should – to really prepare for the coming of Christ. There are so many distractions: shopping, parties, wrapping, mailing, decorating, baking, and other activities, that some find it hard to keep the real meaning of the season in mind.

The propers for this First Sunday in Advent – the beginning of the church year – give us some helpful advice on preparing for the coming of our Lord.

The collect makes clear the need for God in our lives, as we call upon Him to give us grace to “cast away the works of darkness” – only God can give us that grace! Then, it recognizes that Jesus Christ is the mechanism by which we may rise to Life Immortal in the last days. This collect is taken from the latter part of today’s epistle selection from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul believed that the “last days” were soon to come – hence his sense of urgency. He said that our salvation is nearer than we believe!

The epistle tells us that if we love others, we will have fulfilled the law, then reviews the Ten Commandments and assures us, once again, that “love is the fulfilling of the Law.” (Romans 11:10)

The gospel for today would seem to be more appropriate on Palm Sunday if one looked at it historically. It does not seem to fit in with the Advent season. But in this instance, it is used as a symbol: a symbol of our Lord’s coming into the midst of us – in humility, meek, and sitting on an ass; becoming our Judge, and our Redeemer – and doing this through unparalleled love for us.

So, if we put all of these readings together, what do we find as the theme for this First Sunday in Advent? We find a thorough summary of Christian beliefs in these portions of scripture, and all of them are hinged on love; our love for God; His love for us; and our love for one another. This is the theme – to follow the commandment, to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” We have a reminder of this, as the “Summary of the Law,” in each service of the Holy Eucharist – except on the first Sunday of each month, when we recite the entire Decalogue, as we did this morning instead of the “Summary.”

We are given a pretty stiff challenge in this Epistle to the Romans. It is not easy in today’s world to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Keeping the Ten Commandments is not too difficult. We are given a list of actions which, for the most part, we are told to avoid. We are not to murder, steal, or covet – and so on. It is not too difficult to obey those commandments, but the part about loving our neighbors as ourselves, requires some positive action on our part, and for many of us, that is much more difficult. Because of the way people conduct themselves, it is sometimes very difficult to love them – such as those who are inconsiderate, or rude, or have taken advantage of us in business dealings, or social situations, or in politics.

But, we are told to love these people, these “neighbors,” and perhaps we might remember that there are several different kinds of love. So doing might help in understanding this “love thy neighbor” business.

We don’t have to love them as we do our family. It is not the kind of love that consists of concern for a spouse or children – perhaps pride in their accomplishments.

It is not the romantic sort of love one has for one’s spouse. Often, when we think of “love,” this is the only kind that comes to mind.  But, this romantic love certainly is not at all the type we are meant to have for our neighbor.

We are supposed to be friends with our neighbors – that is an expression of love, also – but this friendship is not quite the meaning of “love thy neighbor.”

What Paul really is saying, is for us to be concerned about our neighbors: to do everything possible for the wellbeing of others. We might describe this simply as doing things purely for the sake of others – putting others first.

And, what better time is there for us to put this “caring for our neighbor” into action than during the Advent season? This is the time when we are preparing for our Lord’s coming – His supreme gift, an act of love from a God who cares for us, forgives us for our many failings and truly loves us – shortcomings and all!

Paul always taught that Christian life is a life of love! Certainly this is the message in his epistle today. The Christian life actually began at Calvary with the supreme act of love for us on the Cross. That is when Christianity began, and gave us the Church – the community of all faithful people – the Body of Christ! As members of this community, we are to live in love – for God, for our neighbors, and for one another. This love is what made Christians different from early Jews. For Jews, the Law was the divinely given instrument for serving God. For Christians, as Paul wrote, love is the fulfilling of the Law. Love is central, for love is what God is! Remember – “God is Love?” (I John 4:8)

Paul seemed to “sum up” the Ten Commandments by suggesting that one who loves his neighbor as himself has fulfilled their requirements. In making this remark, Paul is assuming that we are acting on this love – actually doing good works for our neighbors.

There are many ways we may show our love for one another during Advent. We probably should start with a close examination of ourselves – our attitude toward others, our generosity of our time and, our talents, and our money. Most of us do get involved with special projects as Christmas approaches. We may provide gifts for the children in a needy family; we give to Christmas projects such as the Food Bank, or Salvation Army, or Red Cross, or local Social Services agency. We find ourselves doing a few more things for others than we do at other times of the year. We probably think of it as being in the “Christmas Spirit,” but in reality, we are carrying out those acts of love that we are directed to do in the Advent propers. We truly are observing the penitential Advent season.  Perhaps if we realize this and we really “key-in” to the season, we will be even more effective in “loving our neighbor.”

It is really unfortunate that the commercial side of Christmas takes over to the degree that it does. We are swamped with the Christmas theme – before Advent even begins. It is as though the outside world is not even aware of Advent. Many denominations do not observe it. Christmas music has already begun, except in the truly traditional churches such as ours.

There are many wonderful Advent hymns, which help in setting the theme properly for Advent.  Listen to the words of the hymns, today. They address our Lord’s coming (1), His freeing us from Satan’s bondage (7), the salvation we will receive through His love, the treasures of His grace that He brings to us, and provide an admonition to “cast away the works of darkness.” (9)

“Casting away the works of darkness and putting on the armor of light,” is another part of our Advent preparation. This season is a very appropriate time for us to examine our motives and our dealings with our fellow man – make any corrections that might be in order. This is casting away the works of darkness.

Asking God’s help in accomplishing these goals is “putting on the armor of light.” We need His help.  His help is there for us, if we ask for it, realizing our inadequacies and if we are willing to follow his directions.

“Putting on the armor of light” is praying daily, making our communion at His Holy Table each Sunday, asking for guidance before our various activities – and thanking Him for our countless blessings. All of these should be part of our regular year-round activities – but surely during the Advent season we should be even more careful to follow these guidelines. This “other” penitential season is placed just before Christmas for a very important reason. Let us use it properly!

Advent is a wonderful season – a time to really examine ourselves; a time to enjoy the inspiring Advent hymns; a time to do special things for people. And yes, with an Advent wreath, we do begin the countdown to Christmas and the coming of our Lord, into our midst as our King and Messiah, in humility.

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 484 – “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates”

Gradual – 1 – “Come, thou long-expected Jesus”

Offertory – 7 – “Hark the glad sound!

Communion – 201 – “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands”

Recessional – 9 – “Hark! A thrilling voice is sounding”

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November 26, 2017                 Sunday Next Before Advent

Collect: p. 225

OT Lesson: Jeremiah 3:14-18

Lesson in place of Epistle: Jeremiah 23:5-8

Gospel: St. John 6:5-14

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michel the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost” (St. John 6:12) 

          We close out the church year this week, as today is the Sunday Next before Advent. Next Sunday, we begin a new church year, and the Advent season that will prepare us for the coming of our Lord at Christmas. To some, it may seem that today’s propers do not particularly relate to this important last Sunday in the Trinity season, or the upcoming Advent season. 

For instance, today’s gospel reading is the familiar “Feeding of the Five Thousand.” What connection can this have with this Sunday of the church year? Well, it is thought by some, that the reference to “gathering up that which remains,” might refer to “gathering up” all of the scripture that we have heard this past year, and making certain that we are putting it to proper use. That seems a bit farfetched. Another thought – perhaps it refers to “tidying up” our spiritual lives – “gathering up the loose ends” in our lives, in preparation for the coming Christmas season and the new church year – “picking up the clutter” and arranging things neatly for more efficient use. “Gathering up” does seem appropriate if we look at it in that context.

Another interesting line is found in the collect, as we begin our prayer, “Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people.” From this line comes the popular name for this Sunday – “Stir-Up Sunday.” Perhaps we have become a bit “fixed” in our thinking and even in our prayers during the long Trinity season. Now it is time to “wake up” – to be “stirred up” for a fresh, new season. It is a time to evaluate ourselves, take stock, and perhaps correct our course for the coming year, so that we may be more useful to God in accomplishing His work.

Stirring up the wills of thy faithful people,” might refer to a strengthening of our intentions to follow God’s wishes and commandments. This, in turn, allows us to “plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works,” and as a result, be “plenteously rewarded.” Note that this is not a “cause and effect” situation. We do not do good works merely because we wish to receive something in return. No, we do good works because it is the right thing to do, and because of our love for God and the knowledge that He loves us. Then, God rewards us plenteously, because of His love, and because we have been faithful to His Word.

All in all, our propers today are quite an interesting “mix,” and if we analyze them a bit, we’ll find that they really are very appropriate for the Sunday leading us into Advent. Interestingly, we are given two readings from the prophet Jeremiah. That is a little unusual. Both the Old Testament lesson and the lesson appointed in place of the epistle, this morning, are taken from the book of the prophet Jeremiah. We often describe Jeremiah as a sad prophet, with a sad message, as he pronounced a prophecy of doom for Judah. His constant prophecies of bad things to come made him unpopular with the people of that land. Beginning in 627 BC and continuing for forty years, he begged the people of Judah to repent – continually told them that surrender to God’s will was the only hope for them. They did not heed his warnings, and in 586 BC, they were overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar, and deported to Babylon. The Babylonians were the instruments of God’s retaliation.

The theme of Jeremiah, then, is a warning of coming judgment. Of all the prophets, Jeremiah seems to be the one most concerned about personal faith and repentance. He was a sensitive person. He hated to be preaching “gloom and doom,” and was saddened by the unpopular stance he felt he had to take – that he had been commanded to prophesy. He was very hurt by the attitudes of his people towards him, and suffered a great deal of inner turmoil. Making his life even more lonely and unhappy was a command to him from God that, “Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place.” (16:2)

Approaching Advent, we should think about these Jeremiah readings, and perhaps treat them as though they were written to those who live in our times. Remember his urging for personal faith and repentance. That is what kept him going in spite of all of his hardships. He was treated terribly, tried for his life, put in stocks, humiliated, forced to flee, and as we have mentioned in the past – at one point, he was thrown into a cistern, which was used as a dungeon! But he maintained his faith and stayed “on track” with his message. There is a lesson for us in Jeremiah – a lesson of deep faith and persistence in our beliefs.

Being the sensitive sort of person that he was, from time to time, Jeremiah attempted to intersperse his dark pronouncements with some upbeat words. That is what we read today in the other reading from Jeremiah – the lesson in place of an epistle. Here, he clearly predicts the coming of the Messiah – “Behold …I will raise unto David a righteous branch…a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.” (Jer. 23:5) This is a perfect “lead-in” to Advent and the coming of our Lord! We need to be a bit “upbeat,” also!

The Gospel for today is one of the most heartwarming stories of Christ’s miracles – “The Feeding of the Five Thousand.” It is a warm story, one that has no “downside,” is a true miracle, and affects many, many people. It is not directly related to the coming of Advent, but we get a hint of it in the “gathering-up” line that was mentioned – “Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.” (St. John 6:12) Then, look at the last line – “This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.” (St. John 6:14) This is recognition of Christ as the promised Messiah! And, I imagine there were quite a few “stirred up” people on that countryside, when they realized what was happening! They were excited that “that Prophet” was in their midst!

How do we “gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost,” when we apply that phrase to the winding down of our church year? We might treat it much as we do the end of our personal fiscal or tax year. We look over what we have done, decide what we could have done to put us in a more favorable tax situation, perhaps – and make adjustments in how we handle our assets. We can do the same with the Church. Perhaps we’ll realize we haven’t been as regular as we should with the daily offices, or reading at home, or preparing for the services – such as reading the propers before coming to church each week, to have an idea of the theme.

We might decide that we could do more in the way of church attendance, or promptness. It’s a matter of “taking stock” – “gathering up the fragments” – and making plans to do something about it. Does it sound like something else many people do at the beginning of a new year? Yes, it’s making resolutions – for the new Church year! And, it is “tidying up” our lives, making certain that nothing be lost. It is being “stirred up” in our approach to a new year!

These propers, then, are quite broad in their topics, but definitely prepare us for Advent. We have two lessons from one of the Major Prophets, Jeremiah, with his sadness, hardships, and tremendous dedication, to serve as a model for our lives. We have a very wonderful story of the “Feeding of the Five Thousand,” showing Christ’s love and concern – and with little hints for our spiritual improvement. We have a collect that asks that we be roused in doing God’s work, and promises that we shall be “plenteously rewarded,” as we continue to do His good works.

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 552 – “Soldiers of Christ, arise”

Gradual – 329 – “How bright appears the Morning Star”

Offertory – 351 – “Praise the Lord through every nation”

Communion – 195 – “Father, we thank thee, who hast planted”

Recessional – 554 – “Lead on, O King eternal”

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November 19, 2017                 23rd Sunday after Trinity

Collect: p. 222

OT: Isaiah 64

Epistle: Philippians 3:17- 21

Gospel: St. Matthew 22:15-22

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.

“Be ready… to hear the devout prayers of thy Church” (collect)

          Reading through the propers for this morning, one might have difficulty finding a common theme. However, there is a connection or “tie-in” – a somewhat subtle recurring reminder that we are expected to engage in prayer. If we analyze all of the readings, we’ll find at least an indirect admonition to do so. We pick up the theme in the first line of the collect this morning: “O God, our refuge and strength, who art the author of all godliness; Be ready, we beseech thee to hear the devout prayers of thy Church.” Simply said,God, we are going to be talking with you – please listen.” Keeping that line in mind, we’ll look at the rest of today’s readings.

The Old Testament lesson – the entire sixty-fourth chapter of Isaiah – is a long prayer on behalf of the people of Judah. As Isaiah prophesied over an extensive (forty-year) period – he saw many ups and downs, and toward the end of his time, he was an advisor to a “reasonably good” king – Hezekiah. During Hezekiah’s reign, the temple was repaired and Mosaic Law was brought back into use – all of this after a period of degradation under a number of pagan kings. And then, Hezekiah began to disregard Isaiah’s advice, and fell in with the wrong allies, which led to his defeat by the Assyrians. Isaiah continually prophesied that the Assyrians were God’s instruments to punish the people of Judah for their sins, but that – in the end – He would preserve Jerusalem. The prophecy was fulfilled.

As we read today’s portion, we find Isaiah bemoaning that God had not sent down fire to melt the mountains and cause the “waters to boil.” He believed that perhaps this would have brought the people into line, turned them around, and protected them from the Assyrians. He writes that these actions would have “made thy name known to thine adversaries,” and the “nations… tremble.” (64:2) Isaiah then explains why he feels that he can call on God to punish His enemies, and preserve His followers. He has faith in God’s fairness and compassion: “For men have not heard, nor perceived by the ear, neither hath the eye seen…what (God) hath prepared for him that waiteth for him.” (64:4)

He acknowledges that “We have sinned;” “we are unclean;” “our iniquities… have taken us away.” Here he speaks for all the people of Judah. We are not godly. “But now, O Lord, thou art our father; we are the clay, and thou art our potter; and we are the works of thy hand.”  “You made us” – and now he prays, “don’t be angry with us forever.”

Isaiah mentions all of these shortcomings of the people and how much they already have been punished, and he completes the chapter – and today’s reading – with a plea. Because you are our Father; because “Thy holy cities are a wilderness, Zion a desolation, Jerusalem a wilderness”; because “Our beautiful house… is burned up… and our pleasant things are laid to waste” – “Wilt thou hold thy peace and afflict us very sore?” Isaiah asks if the people are to be put through even more – he implies that they have been punished enough! Here, he sets an example of prayer as he prays to God for the people of Judah – for their concerns, and for our concerns. Prayer! 

Of course, at the very end of his book, Isaiah prophesies that Jerusalem will be rebuilt, the Messiah will reign, and there will be peace and prosperity. God’s fairness will see to that! The book of Isaiah ends on a happy note!

In this morning’s epistle, Paul is pretty brash again – as he often is. He tells the Philippians to “be followers …of me,” to act as those who use us for an example of how to live – for “our citizenship is in heaven.” Paul, of course, admonished all to “pray without ceasing,” as he wrote in his first letter to the Thessalonians (I Thess 5:17). If we follow his example, we, too, will “pray without ceasing!” One of the primary examples Paul sets for others to follow is prayer!

The selection continues, stating that we look for our Saviour to come from heaven, change our worldly bodies into a glorious heavenly body, and “subject all things unto himself.” We are citizens of heaven and followers of Paul’s example. As such, we pray often, and as Christ taught us, we direct our prayers to “Our father, who art in heaven.” We, too, are “citizens of heaven.”

Paul also warns against the “enemies of the cross of Christ.” Here, he was speaking of non-believers. These were those who did “lip service” – professed to be Christians, but did not really believe, or live their lives as Christians. No prayer there!

The Pharisees, in today’s gospel account, thought they had come up with another way to trap Jesus into making an indefensible response to a question. He turned the tables on them of course, as He answered with a question that made His position clear, and yet, did not offend anyone. “Render… unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.” This statement seems to downplay the importance of the money and the government it represents. If one thinks about it, this is another way of saying that we are citizens of heaven! That is what counts – the money is unimportant! And what does one render unto God? First of all – sincere prayer! Love, faithfulness, obedience – all is demonstrated through regular prayer!

We have many opportunities for prayer in the course of our workday, our regular weekly routine, in church, out of church – just about anywhere! Remember – “unceasing” – that description makes it sound as though we should never stop. Perhaps that is what we do as Christians. We have God on our minds all of the time and in our thoughts as we embark on any task or venture.

There were many times in my practice of dentistry, when I would slip over to my private office for a word of prayer – usually involving a difficult patient, or “tricky” procedure. I suppose patients were praying even more than I was! Most of us probably do have a word of thanks before meals; perhaps a bedtime prayer; and I hope many of you read the daily offices – morning and evening. Bishop Hewett recommends a word of prayer as one first wakes up in the morning. One might dedicate the day’s activities to God, or ask that He guide one through the day. That’s one I have trouble remembering to do. Too sleepy, I guess!

The point of this is that we should all have a number of regular times for prayer in our daily routines. If possible, it should be a quiet time, when we will not likely be interrupted. Early in the morning is the one time I can count on that – so as soon as I come downstairs in the morning is my regular time for Morning Prayer.

We have several opportunities here at the church each week for personal prayer, in conjunction with our regular services. The period before the service begins is an excellent time and should be used for prayer and review of our interactions with God and the people in our lives. The Wednesday morning service is a wonderful opportunity for such prayer and meditation. The church is open a good half-hour or more before the service begins and is absolutely quiet. Again, I commend that service to you. It is quite special to the few of us who attend regularly.

As I have reminded you in the past, one should try to be in the pew ten minutes or so before a service begins to allow adjusting one’s mood to the “worship mode.” This is the time for that prayer and meditation! May I urge that you try to do that?

God is ready to listen to us as we pray – we’ve asked Him to “Be ready… to hear the devout prayers of thy Church.” Let’s not keep Him waiting!

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 577 – “Awake, my soul, stretch every nerve”

Gradual – 477 – “God himself is with us”

Offertory – 499 – “Before thy throne, O God, we kneel”

Communion – 189 – “And now, O Father, mindful of the love”

Recessional – 287– “Give praise and glory unto God”

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November 12, 2017       22nd Sunday after Trinity

Collect: p. 220

OT: Ecclesiasticus 27:30-28:7

Epistle: Philippians 1:3-11

Gospel: St. Matthew 18:21-35

 

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector,  St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia. 

“Keep thy household the Church in continual godliness” (Collect)

          Once again, this morning, we find a similarity in the Old Testament and gospel readings. In the Old Testament reading – from the apocryphal book, Ecclesiasticus – we read, “Forgive thy neighbor the hurt that he hath done unto thee, so shall thy sins also be forgiven when thou prayest.” (28:2) Another verse reads (and, it is a question,) “One man beareth hatred against another, and doth seek pardon from the Lord?”(28:5) The gospel discussion this morning, from Matthew, describes the treatment of a servant, who after having had his own debt forgiven, refused to do the same for a fellow-servant, and consequently, was thrown into prison and “delivered to the tormentors.” This is the “Parable of the Unforgiving Servant.” The message in both of these readings is very clear – one must forgive in order to be forgiven.

We are warned that our fate will be the same as that servant if we do not, from our hearts, forgive our brother his trespasses. “From our hearts,” means that we must really, deeply, want to forgive – it is not to be done lightly, and merely to make us eligible for the same loving forgiveness! Perhaps you remember, from your grade school days, as I do from mine,  that some sort of squabble might develop between two classmates – maybe leading to blows. The teacher would intervene and ask each to apologize to the other, and then to the whole class. There was no sincerity in such apologies, and occasionally the affair was taken up again after school. We often find today that a prominent public figure – in sports or politics, for instance – demonstrates some sort of character lapse, is “caught,” and then comes before the public to offer an apology, often doing so with his spouse at his side. These apologies are not “from the heart”! They would not be made, had not the person’s lapse come to light.

This eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s gospel is Jesus’ longest dissertation on “forgiveness,” and also speaks of “humility.” In it we find mention of “becoming as a little child” – being “born again,” how to reconcile with an offended brother, and “the Parable of the Lost Sheep.” It ends with today’s segment – which opens with Peter’s question: “How oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?” (18:21) Peter even suggests what he thinks is a large number – “Seven times?” Of course, Jesus’ reply – “Seventy times seven” – is not intended to be a specific number, but an indication of endless forgiveness that we should show for those who trespass against us. And, by the way, we are not supposed to “keep score” – only God should do that!

This gospel reading has a reputation as the “easiest” of all the Sunday gospels on which to base a sermon. The message is so evident – we must forgive, in order to receive forgiveness. I’m not so certain that that makes it easier to use as a text than are some others with more hidden meanings! There are, however, some interesting little twists and implications in this reading.

The amount of the servant’s debt is mentioned as ten thousand talents, which is insurmountable for a servant, and today, in our society, would amount to millions of dollars. We can’t help wondering how he could have “run up” such a debt to the “certain king” – his “lord,” in the story. The parallel here is that our sins – our “debts” – are also insurmountable in size and no comparison at all to the affronts that we may feel we have suffered at the hands of our neighbors.

We notice the extreme degree of compassion shown by the king. The servant asked for a little more time to pay, and offered the promise that he would pay all of the debt, even though they all knew there was no possible way for him to raise that amount of money. The king’s reply was not just to extend the time, but to “write off” the entire amount. God is willing to do that for us. His forgiveness is total! Christ has paid our debt, and we are free from it forever!

Having been forgiven from his huge debt, wouldn’t we expect the subject of today’s parable to be so full of thanks that he would pass some of his good fortune on to his fellow man? Instead, we find him seeking out a debtor – we read he “found one of his fellow servants, which owed him an hundred pence.” That sounds as though he went looking for this person. Then, he “laid hands on him, and took him by the throat,” and demanded payment. When the debtor now begged for the same mercy that was bestowed on the servant, it was refused and instead he was sent to prison. There is no compassion here!

We come to church, make our confessions, receive absolution – are forgiven for our wrongdoing, but are we willing to do the same for those who might have stepped on our toes? This parable really hits home. True believers are both forgiven and forgiving.

One of the prayers to God in the collect this morning is that He may “keep thy household the Church in continual godliness.” One characteristic of “godliness” is to be forgiving. At home and here in church, we get down on our knees and pray for forgiveness for ourselves, but how do we do on the other end of this proposition? It is not easy, sometimes, to overlook the infractions that we feel have been committed against us, but really, how many of them are anywhere near the magnitude of our own missteps?

The very beautiful epistle selection this morning is from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Written in a Roman prison in 62 AD, it is a “thank you” to the people in Philippi, who had sent him a gift – some of it, money – and showed real compassion for one in need. As such, it is filled with glowing compliments about the people at Philippi, with assurances that they are in his prayers and also with expressions of confidence about their future in the heavenly kingdom. He states that he is confident “that He which hath begun a good work in you in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (1:6)  In other words, we might say that God will “keep His household the Church in continual godliness.”

Paul’s epistle to the Philippians is surprisingly “upbeat,” coming as it did, from a prisoner. But, Paul was writing to the people of the church which was probably most dear to his heart, and certainly the one that caused him the least amount of trouble. Even so, there were some minor disagreements within the church at Philippi, and farther on in this epistle, Paul pleads with them for unity, “Stand fast in the Lord…be of the same mind in the Lord.” We must follow those directions, also!

If we follow Paul’s advice, and “stand fast in the Lord,” we will ask God for help in examining ourselves, and perhaps evaluating situations in which we find ourselves. So doing will aid us in being more forgiving to our neighbors. If we can be “of the same mind in the Lord” – center our lives on Him – perhaps we will find ourselves more in agreement with our fellow man and not so much at odds with him. A factor in this is to try to look at situations from the viewpoint of others. If we could do this, we might find that we would not need to forgive or be forgiven nearly as often.

We human beings frequently seem to be subject to disagreements with one another. They range from minor spats over seemingly insignificant incidents, all the way to serious problems with fellow workers, neighbors, and even within families – those are some of the most tragic. If we could just realize that even the worst of these is insignificant compared to our transgressions against God – put them in the proper perspective, and not seek retaliation over every little thing – perhaps we could find ourselves truly forgiving many of those people – truly, and “from our hearts”!

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 388 – “I love thy kingdom, Lord”

Gradual – 363 – “Lord, of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy”

Offertory – 485, 1st tune – “Jesus, thou Joy of loving hearts”

Communion – 208, 1st tune – “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face”

Recessional – 396 – “The Church’s one foundation”

And 142 – Nat’l Anthem at end after Angelus, in place of postlude.

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November 5, 2017                                    21st Sunday after Trinity

Collect: pp. 218, 256 (All Saints)

OT: Isaiah 59:15b-21

Epistle: Ephesians 6:10-20

Gospel: St. John 4: 46-54

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Be strong in the Lord… Put on the whole armor of God. Stand against the wiles of the devil. We wrestle against… powers, rulers of darkness, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12) …“open my mouth boldly.” (Ephesians 6:19)

 

Reading through those lines in the epistle for today, we might notice how closely they relate to us. They could apply to our congregation; to the Diocese of the Holy Cross; and, in fact, to all who are concerned about the departure from scripture and tradition, and the fragmentation that is taking place today throughout the Church. We are “wrestling against the powers of darkness.”  “Spiritual wickedness in high places” seems to describe some of the key problems the Church is facing today. Does that expression not bring to mind the “high places” in many churches where there definitely seems to be “spiritual wickedness”? No longer is the best candidate necessarily the one chosen as a bishop or other church leader. Indeed it is often not even a legitimate candidate – one with valid credentials! Many do not meet the biblical standards! Today, much is based on “political correctness.”

That is one reason that many of us left our former denominations – those “sinking ships” – and God has provided this “lifeboat” for us in the form of the Diocese of the Holy Cross. (Those are terms used by our former Bishop, Robert Waggener – “sinking ship” and “lifeboat” – very appropriate and a perfect description that I like to use!

Many of us have gone through a great deal of agony to arrive where we are today. Several of you have talked with me about your own experiences in your former churches. As a lifelong, very regular attendee who loved the Episcopal church and depended on it for comfort, guidance, solace, and the opportunity to worship our Lord in the manner I thought was proper – I felt betrayed, abandoned, and very confused, when I realized how radically things were changing. That “ship” was sinking! I held on for quite a few years, knowing that something was going very wrong, but seeing no solution or alternative. The decision to leave was heartrending. Many of you have been in the same predicament.

Like many others, I also felt that perhaps I should stay “on board,” remain in the Episcopal Church, and try to change the direction in which things were heading. But, it had gone way too far for that to be a possibility any longer. The hull of that that sinking ship was badly damaged, the decks were almost awash – it was time to get into the “lifeboats”! With the 1979 so-called “Book of Common Prayer,” and the usage that goes with it, the Anglican traditions were no longer kept, not taught, and not thought to be important. Holy Orders were opened to women – and to men with all sorts of impediments. Confirmation became optional. Communion was offered to anyone, regardless of belief, or very young age. Full communicant status was opened to those “received” from almost any denomination, without any real teaching of Anglican doctrine. As these people then became elected to vestries, and having no “feel” for Anglican tradition, the decks of that “sinking ship” slipped below the surface and water began pouring into the hull at an alarming rate. The ship was doomed!

That is why trying to work within that group could not succeed. There are very few people with Anglican roots in it anymore! It has become something very different – very Protestant – more like a Presbyterian, Methodist, or non-denominational group.  Most of us here today have realized that, and that is why we have chosen to make that painful break, and affiliate with this wonderful group!

Unfortunately, there are too many small groups within the “Traditional” or “Continuing” movement. That is a major weakness of our situation. We would be far stronger if we could have some unification of the various traditional or “continuing” jurisdictions. There are more than forty separate groups, nationally – and among those, there is still failure to agree completely on doctrinal matters such as interpretation of biblical standards for clergy. Such standards seem pretty clear to us.

Bishop Hewett is committed to reuniting as many of the various groups as possible. His Anglican Fellowship of the Delaware Valley was an early model for that kind of togetherness. He brought together many of the different Anglican groups in his area into a “fellowship” that he hopes will eventually recognize each other’s bishops, Holy Orders, and sacraments. The recently-signed Concordat, brings together four of the national traditional groups into full communion, provides for exactly that sort of acceptance, and is another step in the right direction. (These four jurisdictions are The Anglican Catholic Church, The Anglican Church in America, The Anglican Province of America, and The Diocese of the Holy Cross.) The Bishop’s many trips to England and Scandinavia and all over the United States are further evidence of his efforts. He really is trying to bring things together – to get us out of the “lifeboats” and back on firm ground – or at least on a seaworthy vessel!

Those of us, who have been faced with this dilemma of a “decaying” church, have had to choose from several options – none of them perfect. The choices:

  1. We could have ignored the changes, like so many have done – let ourselves be “modernized” away from tradition and scripture. This is not possible for most of us. My former rector in that other church thought I took things too seriously. That’s one problem today! Too many people are not paying serious attention to what is happening! They are not “girt about with truth,” and not “wearing the whole armor of God.” The “rulers of darkness” are being allowed to enter.
  2. Some chose to remain in their former church, but tried to find a congregation in that denomination that was attempting to remain as traditional as possible. That is out of the question today – there aren’t any remaining! That approach was doomed to failure anyway, could be only a temporary measure, and in the meantime, any tithes and offerings went in part to fund the very “spiritual wickedness in high places,” to which these people objected.
  3. Others may have dropped out entirely or affiliated with another denomination. Even our former Bishop Waggener left our diocese for the Orthodox Church. Others have become Roman Catholics. Both options are fine, but are not viable choices for a devout Anglican, who desperately wishes to remain one! It does not solve any problems. In a way, it merely ignores them.
  4. Or, one may follow the route that has brought us here to St. Michael’s, and affiliate with a group which, though small, has the values, traditions, and purity of Holy Orders that we treasure. The disadvantage is that we are rather sparsely settled and scattered. In some ways, this is the hardest to follow of the four options, but certainly the most rewarding!          The central message of the epistle today is to “be strong, put on the armor of God, and stand against the wiles of the devil.” I believe that is what the traditional churches are doing. I certainly believe that is what we at St. Michael’s are doing! The devil is at work, trying to disrupt and tear down the Church. “Divide and conquer” is a basic military tactic, and one that the devil often is likely to use. We need to be aware of that and try to eliminate the fractionalization that has weakened the “continuing church” movement.

There is a terrifically important role for every one of you to play in this continuing struggle, as each of you must also “open your mouth boldly.” Each of you must put on that “Armor of God,” of which we heard in the epistle and to which the Old Testament lesson refers. Isaiah also tells us that “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.” We are seeing that “flood” in the Church – and we are that “standard against him”! Christians must be aware of what is happening in the Church, be able to speak out when they see this “spiritual wickedness,” voice disapproval, and bring others into groups such as ours, where such things are not happening! We have plenty of space in our “lifeboat” to rescue those who are sinking! Let’s bring them aboard! We must bring them aboard if we are to survive! We need members! All of us are quite concerned about the future of Saint Michael’s – and of all the traditional churches such as ours. But, there are some very disturbing realities that we have to face.

  1. The decline in church attendance and membership that is found in all denominations has affected us, also. Many people simply are no longer interested in religion!
  2. Our liturgy – so dear to us! – is not attractive to all people – especially young people! They like the modern music, casual attire, informality, and “big screen” presentations, such as might be found in large Protestant churches. They might prefer sermons that are more contemporary, less judgmental, and not based on a rigid set of propers, such as we use. They might be more interested in a “youth center” format – not so much a liturgical form of worship – allowing them to “go to church” without really “going to church.”
  3. The family schedule, these days, is so crowded with meetings, school activities, and sports events, that Sunday has become another spot to place some such activities – especially sports. Years ago, that would not have been done.

With all of this, it is easy to become discouraged about our future. However, the story of the sick son of the nobleman has an encouraging message. If we have the faith, we shall be healed. If we traditionalists have faith and believe we are doing the right thing in making this journey, then God will heal us, use us to heal His Church, bring it back together, back into His fold, from which it has strayed.                                                                                       Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 551 – “A Mighty fortress is our God”

Gradual – 517 – “Thine arms, O Lord in days of old”

Offertory –339 – “O Lamb of God, still keep me” (Reg tune – St Christopher)

Communion – 201 – “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands”

Recessional – 563 – “He who would valiant be”

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October 29, 2017           20th Sunday after Trinity        Comm. Christ the King

Collects: pp. 217, Missal

OT: Ecclesiastes 9:4-10

Epistle: Ephesians 5:15- 21

Gospel: St. Matthew 22:1- 14

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

On the Ordo Kalendar, this last Sunday in October is designated as “The Feast of Christ the King.” This is one of those feast days that most Protestant denominations do not celebrate. Indeed, even most of us who grew up in the Episcopal Church probably are not accustomed to such an observation, unless we attended a so-called “high” church.  We do not always celebrate it as the main theme of this Sunday here at St. Michael’s – but if I do not, I like to commemorate it with the collect and at least mention it. This feast is a relatively new one – established by Pope Pius XI in 1925. On this day, we pray in the collect for the conversion of all to Christ, and for peoples around the world to recognize Him as King, and for countries to bring their laws into conformation with His teachings. Well – there’s a good idea! Maybe such laws as those pertaining to marriage and “right to life” should be brought back into conformance with God’s teachings, as they were until the last few decades! In the collect, we pray, “Mercifully grant that the kindreds of the earth which are wounded and dispersed by sin, may speedily be knit together under His gracious sovereignty.” This is the only way to peace! This is most important at times like these! Knit together, and with laws in conformance with God’s wishes – would that not be wonderful?

However, today we will concentrate on the theme for the Twentieth Sunday after Trinity. The collect for that Sunday reads, in part:

 

“…of thy bountiful goodness…keep us from all things that may hurt us; that we…may cheerfully accomplish those things which thou commandest.” (collect)

          This collect is a wonderful reminder of the “give and take,” relationship that we believers have with God. Yes – of His “bountiful goodness,” God will keep us safe, out of trouble, sheltered, fed, and clothed. That’s an enormous amount on the “take” side of the equation, from our standpoint. In return, we pray that we will be enabled to follow cheerfully His commandments – not really a whole lot to “give” for these benefits.

Reading today’s epistle, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find some guidance in following His commandments. Let’s break this reading down into its components, and see what it says, and how it may be of help to us. Remember that this letter was not written to address any particular problem, as were some of Paul’s other epistles, and may not even have been intended solely for the Ephesians. Quite likely, it was written for general distribution to all of the churches around the Mediterranean and in Asia.

Paul wrote this epistle to remind his readers that they are very rich in the love of Christ, and through the many gifts received by virtue of that love. These gifts include adoption, redemption, forgiveness, wisdom, life itself, the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and citizenship – all of which eventually will lead to life in the Heavenly Kingdom.

Paul opens this section with the phrase, “See then, that ye walk circumspectly.” (Ephesians 5:15) Pay attention; be aware; watch what is going on around you! Be on guard for those things happening in your neighborhood, in your community, in your church – indeed, everywhere – those things that may not be appropriate for Christians – and may be dangerous to all. “Walk circumspectly,” he says – be cautious; be careful! “Be not as fools” – unwise men! “But as wise” – be thoughtful, careful, and act in a sensible manner, always looking out for the snares of Satan. And, we must have not only the wisdom, but also the strength and courage to resist his enticements.

“Redeeming the time, because the days are evil,” (Ephesians 5:16) is the next phrase, and it is a little confusing. However, in the New English Bible, we will find this wording: “Use the present opportunity to the full, for these are evil days” – much easier to comprehend. This applies to us today also, for we are faced with all kinds of evil works, everywhere we look. These days in which we live are truly “evil days”! Today, as in Paul’s time, we run into corruption, opposition to God, blasphemy, difficulties of all kinds, and threats to the survival of the Church – and of the whole world. However, in our times, modern technology makes such things as corruption, abortion, abuse of various substances, and the spread of pornography – all kinds of improper behavior – much easier to accomplish. We need to be very alert and on guard at all times! We need that “courage,” of which we spoke!

“Be not unwise, be understanding,” (Ephesians 5:17) refers to being enlightened through prayer and study, to know “what the will of the Lord is,” how it is revealed through His Holy Word, and to know what He wants us to do. Well – deep down, in most situations, do not we really know how God would prefer us to act?

The phrase about not “being drunk with wine” (Ephesians 5:18) was placed here probably because this was the time of the year when “new wine” was being drawn, but it is yet another reminder to think with a clear head in matters of morals, religion, and character. “Be filled with the Holy Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18) is the next line, and this, “be filled,” in the Greek language, had a little more meaning than in ours. It had a connotation of continuing the process, or being filled moment by moment. Yesterday’s “filling with the Spirit” would not do for today – it must be a continuing process.

We heed this admonition to “be filled with the Spirit,” by following the directions in the next line – “speaking to ourselves in psalms, and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in our hearts, and giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 5:19) We do this through our daily prayers at home, our studies, and our services here in our church, at least weekly, and more often, when able – do not forget our midweek service on Wednesday!

“Submitting ourselves one to another in the fear of God,” (Ephesians 5:21) recognizes that Christians treat one another with respect, with warmth, and with an effort to avoid rudeness or harshness in relationships with one another. A congregation is a family – and this one at St. Michael’s always has been an exceptional example of that characteristic!

So, in the collect, we pray for protection, and that we may follow the commandments. In the epistle, we find some help in obeying those commandments, but also some warnings about the pitfalls in this secular world. The Old Testament lesson, from Ecclesiastes, also makes some observations about this world, and the state it is in, and gives us some suggestions.

First, we are told that as long as one lives, there is hope for his redemption, therefore we must always be ready – “dressed in white; head anointed with oil.” (Ecclesiastes 9:8) White symbolizes cheerfulness, purity – and perhaps being dressed for a feast or special occasion. It is never too late to change one’s ways, as long as there is life. “Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of thy life” (Ecclesiastes 9:9) – this seems to be a command to be faithful to one spouse – forever. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might,” (Ecclesiastes 9:10) is an urge to be diligent and industrious. All of these are good advice for those seeking to keep the commandments.

Moving to the gospel appointed for today, we find the very familiar story of the wedding feast – the preparation for the banquet, and how it unfolded. The implication is that we are asked to come to the feast by God, to honor His Son. Many do not heed the invitation, but ignore it and go on with their business. Some of the messengers are treated badly, and even killed!  He continues to make preparations, sends more and more invitations, through the various saints, prophets, and holy men and women, down through the centuries. We continue to ignore Him. Finally, the banquet is held, and some show up “without the proper wedding garment” – which really is a “robe of righteousness” – an internal state of being – not a piece of cloth!

“Many are called” – God’s invitation is issued to all of us! But, “few are chosen” – not everyone who tries to enter, will gain admittance. Not all are chosen to receive salvation. They do not have the proper wedding garment – that is, the proper inner state of being, and the sanctification of the Spirit. This is the strait gate, and narrow way, which few find. We enter it through that “give and take” process, which we mentioned as we opened today.

Are we prepared in body and soul to do what God hast commandest? Are we ready to enter through the strait gate? Do we have the proper wedding garment? Our propers today give us plenty of help in being ready and able to answer those questions properly. By God’s grace all of us all are called. May we, by our actions, thoughts, words, and deeds, be chosen! We pray that God may “keep us from all things that may hurt us; that we…may cheerfully accomplish those things which He (thou) commandest.” (collect)

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 280 – “God, my King, thy might confessing”

Gradual – 292 (tune 53) – “Songs of praise the angels sang”

Offertory – 524 – “God of grace and God of glory”

Communion – 203 – “My God, thy table now is spread”

Recessional – 484 – “Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates”

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October 22, 2017           19th Sunday after Trinity

Collect: p. 215

OT: Job 24:1-17

Epistle: Ephesians 4:17-32

Gospel: St. Matthew 9:1-8

A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts” (collect)

 

We Christians are fortunate in having a virtual “army” of allies to help us as we face the trials and challenges of this life. We recognize one of those as we pray the collect for today and ask God to “Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.” “All things!” We’ll come back to that phrase in a few moments. The Holy Spirit – the One who is there to help us, guide us, and protect us – to lead us in making right choices in our lives – the “Prime Mover” – is the One who gets things going and is one of our strongest allies! We have many others!

Orthodox Christians also feel comfortable in calling on the Holy Mother to intercede on our behalf. That is what we do in the Angelus or at any time when we ask Mary for intercessions. She is another strong ally.

We know also, that we have “Guardian Angels” and patrons such as St. Michael, who constantly watch over us. We may have a particular saint associated with us – perhaps through our birthday – with whom we might have an especially strong feeling of closeness. My birthday is St. Bartholomew’s feast day, so I always feel a special relationship with him.

Also, we are all parts of various groups who have patrons, and because of that patronage, we may have a connection or feel a presence as we face danger, trials or hardships. For instance, St. Apollonia is the patron saint of dentistry, one who surely helped keep me on the right track as I practiced that profession for many years! Another example: as I was preparing a homily for the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, one year, I discovered that she is the patron of aircrew members and aircraft pilots. I never knew this, and now feel that perhaps she was with me all along, as I functioned in both of those capacities! Who knows? – But a nice thought!

Some of you may know that St. Thérèse of Lisieux is Bishop Hewett’s favorite saint, and that is the reason that our Anglican Church Women’s group takes its name from her – the Guild of. St. Thérèse. All of you ladies should feel a closeness to her.

These angels and saints are parts of our “team.” Every one of us has several “special” saints in his life, whether he is a teacher, florist, farmer, parent, soldier, or what-have-you! There are several patrons for everyone! As I mentioned, in my group, I have Bartholomew, Apollonia, and Thérèse – and all of us here certainly should include St. Michael.

The point of this is that Christians are never alone. There are clergy – of course – and church family members, our own family members, and all three members of the Holy Trinity, who are ready, willing, and actually eager to be of help to us! Because of our belief in the “Communion of Saints,” we have a huge number of other helpers at our side – also willing and eager to be of assistance. Think how the numbers of those allies are reduced if one is not a Christian believer! There is not much left! The only requirements for all of this help are that we believe in Christ as our Savior, allow the Holy Spirit to direct and rule our hearts, and have faith in God!

Our gospel  reading this morning gives us an example of the sort of faith some people are capable of demonstrating. When He saw the four men bringing the man to Him and sensing their faith, Jesus pronounced forgiveness of the paralytic’s sins! This action surprised everyone. Jesus had been healing people and performing all sorts of miracles, but forgiving sins was another matter! The scribes and Pharisees, who had reasoned that only God could forgive sins, were outraged and immediately, cries of blasphemy broke out. Jesus, of course, replied that the Son of Man has the power on earth to forgive sins, turned to the man and told him to arise and walk! And, he did, while everyone “marvelled.” (Matthew 9:8) 

It is interesting in this story, that Jesus recognized the faith being shown, not only by the paralytic, but also by the four friends – “Jesus, seeing their faith,” we read (Matthew 9:2)  – he is referring to the faith of the four friends, as well as that of the sick man! Especially when we think of the Mark and Luke versions, these men did show a great deal of faith. Today’s account from Matthew, omits the colorful part of this story as the four friends climbed up on a roof with a complete cripple on his bed, removed the roof tiles, arranged some sort of rope/sling affair, and lowered this man into the midst of the crowd. They must have had faith that Jesus could provide a cure!

This is one of a series of ten miracles performed by Jesus that reveal His authority over every realm – disease, demons, death, and nature. His actual works and deeds support his words and verify his claims. The theme of Matthew’s gospel is “Christ as King,” and the miracles are presented to illustrate the power of the King. In this particular incident, Jesus was inviting publicity. He wanted people to know that He could forgive sins, and He used this miracle as evidence. The physical healing was proof that the spiritual cure, the man’s forgiveness, was real.

The ancient Jews believed that illness was a punishment for sin, and its cure was a sign of the breaking of sin’s power. Maybe that concept was pretty accurate. We know today that physical health and mental health are deeply entwined. When the man in this story received forgiveness, arose, and walked out of that building, he became a new man – physically and spiritually whole!

The epistle today also speaks of becoming a new man. Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians to make Christians more aware of their position in Christ and to draw upon their spiritual source in daily living. In today’s segment, we are given a “blueprint” for living the Christian life: for becoming a new man. It contains a list of transgressions – large and small – and broad enough to include almost everyone. Who among us hasn’t at least “let the sun go down on our wrath” (Ephesians 4:26) on some occasions? This Sunday often falls in the middle of a controversial election season, as it does this year. When it does, I sometimes find myself struggling with this line – I frequently seem to have trouble controlling my wrath. As I mull over the damage to our country and the damage to the Church – largely brought about by political correctness and political pandering, I find controlling wrath to be quite difficult. I have to call on my “army” of allies to help me through.

Today’s collect fits the epistle and gospel particularly well. In it, we pray that the Holy Spirit will in all things direct and rule our hearts. It would be helpful this week to read this collect as we begin and end each day. It would be a good prayer to use as we begin any activity – “in all things direct and rule our hearts.” If we ask for direction and rule as we follow the guidelines in today’s epistle, and count on the forgiveness of sins and absolution outlined in the gospel, we would indeed be healthier spiritually, mentally, and physically. Our outlook on life would improve; we would be much better armed to meet life’s challenges, temptations, and trials, and as a bonus, we would be much more effective servants of God in all of our activities – “…in all things”!

Amen

Processional – 158 (2nd tune) – “O splendor of God’s glory bright”

Gradual – 413 – “Lord, as to thy dear cross we flee”

Offertory – 344 – “O love how deep, how broad, how high”

Communion – 211 – “Come with us, O Blessed Jesus” (short – sing twice)

Recessional – 567 – “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us”

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(The Bishop visited and preached on Oct. 15, so I do not have a sermon to post.)

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October 8, 2017             17th Sunday after Trinity

Collect: p. 213

OT: Jeremiah 13:15-21

Epistle: Ephesians 4:1-6

Gospel: St. Luke 14:1-11

A sermon by The Rev’d Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.

“Humility, Patience, and Love: Fruits of the Spirit”

           The rather short epistle reading, this morning, outlines for us just what a Christian life should entail – humility, patience, and love. Then, it explains that, regardless of our vocation or our calling, there is a tremendous unity within the Christian Church, in that there is “One Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.” (Ephesians 4:5-6) Well, maybe that “unity” is not quite what it should be, today. Recognizing that, we usually pray for the unity of the Church in our bidding prayer before the Eucharist.

“Humility,” “Patience,” “Love,” and “Unity,” then, are four of the strengths of the Christian and his Church, which we will discuss this morning. There are others, but we will limit our discussion to these four this morning.

The first three, “humility,” “patience,” and love,” are personal traits that we must develop, and are some of the “Fruits of the Spirit,” about which we read in scripture so often.  These “fruits,” are often referred to as “Christian Virtues,” which means they are characteristic of the heart and mind that we should have if we are truly trying to walk in God’s ways and serve Him with gladness. These virtues are characteristic of God, himself, and if we believe that we are created in His image and likeness, then – as Christian believers – we too, should exhibit these traits.

“Unity,” on the other hand, is a collective strength – a characteristic of the Church as a whole, which exists because we are of one mind in our belief in God.

The first “Fruit of the Spirit” this morning, “Humility,” is often referred to as the “Mother of all Virtues,” and its opposite, “pride,” as the cause of all sin. Discussions of pride appear often in scripture. In Proverbs, we read, “Pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall,” (16:18) and “Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoils with the proud,” (16:19) and “A man’s pride shall bring him low; but honor shall uphold the humble in spirit.” (29:23)

In today’s gospel, we read that “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbleth himself shall be exalted.” (14:11) This is our Lord’s teaching, and He practices what He preaches. He lowered Himself to being like a slave. He withstood mockery, being spat upon, and physical abuse. To emphasize His humility, he insisted on washing the feet of the disciples – doing all of this while purifying the world from the stain of sin.

When we think of humility and wonder what we must do, truly to be humble, we may think we should degrade ourselves and take on a remorseful air. We don’t have to do that! Christ is humble, and He does not do that! God, we are taught, has perfect humility and does not act that way. The truly humble can lay aside all vanity, serve the least of God’s creatures, and consider no good work as beneath one’s dignity and honor – without being sad, remorseful, and “down in the dumps.” As a matter of fact, true followers usually are rather happy people!

The test of being humble is to know that without the grace of God, we are but dust – sinful, and dead. Only through His grace are we truly alive and freed from our sinful ways – and really happy!

The next “Fruit of the Spirit” is “patience,” and are we not the beneficiaries of God’s patience? He has put up with a failing mankind since Creation. For us, patience means to suffer and endure. It means putting up with others and ourselves as we try to follow His wishes. Christ tells us that only those who are patient will bring forth fruit from the seeds of God’s Word that are sown in their hearts. People do not realize that, because of the tremendous freedom we enjoy, we are able to get ourselves into all sorts of trouble – thereby making the effort to cleanse one’s life from sin tiresome and long, requiring patience. Especially today, we seem to expect everything to happen at once, with little striving and work.  I think of this often – in this day of “instant communication,” we expect immediate answers when we send a text or email message. We don’t seem to remember when we used to have to wait until we could get to a phone to call someone or, worse yet, depend on the mail! We don’t seem to exhibit much patience!

Some feel they can find peace for their souls, by willpower and rationalization. These people will never truly find God and the peace that He brings to us. It takes time. It takes patience. This patience must be renewed frequently through personal prayer, corporate prayer, discipline, and especially through our Communion with God. If one wishes to be patient, he must be united with Christ and live by the Power of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way!

According to the Christian faith, the greatest virtue is “love,” as we read in First Corinthians (13:13). Love is the “fulfilling of the Law” of God. We read in Galatians (5:14) that “all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” God is Love. God loves us. In John’s gospel, we read why Christ came to save us sinners: “God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son” to save us. (John 3:16)

“Love,” then, is our third virtue mentioned in this morning’s epistle, and the most important, most complicated of all – complicated because there are several kinds of love. We have mentioned this before – but here is a brief “refresher.”

The first type of love is “agape,” which translates roughly to doing everything possible for the well-being of others – actions of perfect goodness for the sake of others. This is the love to which we refer, when we say, “God is Love.” God is Agape. And, this is the love with which spiritual persons must love, first of all.

The second form of love is “erotic love” – that which a husband and wife feel for one another; a love for the sake of union with another; to be with another; to be in communion with another. It is not, as some feel, just a sexual love. There should be an element of this in our relationship with God – that feeling of communion – wanting to be with Him.

The third “love” is “friendship,” or “phila,” and also should exist between Man and God. After all, Man has no greater friend than God, and God wants to be a friend of Man. That is why He sent His Son to save us: to eliminate all enmity between God and Man and to establish a “friendship.” Phila – as in “Philadelphia” – the “City of Brotherly Love.” Friendship!

So, all three forms of love – Love as Goodness, Love as Union, Love as Friendship – are all to be found in God and Man, between God and Man, and between human beings. There is no form of true love, which lies outside of our spiritual lives.

The final point in today’s epistle is that there is a powerful “unity” within the Church, which transcends all of our differences. “There is one Body and one Spirit.” No matter what our individual preferences, all who have been baptized by water and the Holy Spirit are members of the Church. When baptized, one does not become a member of just his local congregation or particular denomination, but a member of the Church – the Body of Christ!

Baptismal certificates make it clear that one is entering the Church in the broadest sense – the Body of Christ’s believers. Ordination certificates state that one is ordained into the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church,” and not into a particular denomination.

So, this “unity” includes all baptized Christians, who, together recognize that “there is one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all.”

We Anglicans have very definite ideas and preferences in our liturgy, church décor, attitude toward our clergy, and various beliefs and customs. But, we are only a small part of the Church, all joined together in this unity – this army of Christ’s followers. Some of the characteristics of all of those members of this “army” are the “Fruits of the Spirit,” three of which we have discussed this morning – “humility,” “patience,” and “love.”

The collect today follows closely, as we ask that God’s grace may always be with us and enable us continually to do His good works. This may be accomplished only through humility, patience, and love. May we always be blessed with those “Fruits of the Holy Spirit”!

                                                                   Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 300 – “Before the Lord Jehovah’s throne”

Gradual – 418 – “Blest are the pure in heart”

Offertory – 287 – “Give praise and glory unto God”

Communion – 208, 1st tune – “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face”

Recessional – 554 – “Lead on O King eternal”

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October 1, 2017                      Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (transferred)

Collect: p. 251

Trinity 16 Collect : p. 212

O.T. Lesson: Job 38:1-7

(For) Epistle: Rev. 12:7-12

Gospel: St. Matthew 18:1-10

A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia

“St. Michael and All Angels”

          This morning, we celebrate the feast of our patron, St. Michael the Archangel. More specifically, we commemorate all of the Angels – the complete name of this feast day is “St. Michael and all Angels” – but primarily we remember this day as St. Michael’s Day, or Michaelmas. Celebrating the feast of the patron is important in the life of a parish, so we are moving it from last Friday to allow it to be held today – on Sunday – when more of the congregation may be in attendance.

Let’s discuss first this morning – angels in general: what angels are, who they are, and where they are.

We must understand that this visible world, here on earth, is not the only world created by God. There is an invisible, co-existing world, also. We cannot see it or locate it physically. It is spiritual! It has no place or size. Just because we do not see it does not mean it is not real. It has been described as “invisible creation,” or “invisible created reality,” and consists of the hosts of bodiless powers. These are often referred to and somewhat incorrectly “lumped together” as “angels.”

We may sometimes make comments about angels to others, and find they are astonished to learn that we believe in such things. And, when asked if they do not also believe in them, the reply might be that they have never seen one. (One of my friends once made that comment to me, years ago, as we talked of the subject.) Many people do not believe in things that are not material or visible. Well, we don’t see God, but we know He is here. We don’t see the invisible, but we certainly see the results of His works. And, must we actually see a physical representation of something, in order to believe in it? What a narrow outlook that seems to be – to us! And, by the way – how can anyone be so certain he has not seen an angel? How would he know?

But, skeptical people such as these think we are very strange for naming our church after something or someone they cannot see or in which they cannot believe. One of the apostles or martyrs might be appropriate perhaps – but angels?

We may further flabbergast these people, when we tell them that angels are really just one of nine levels of these supernatural beings in which we believe. (I further astounded my friend as I told him this!) We mention them in our final hymn this morning (599). The various levels are: angels, archangels, principalities, powers, virtues, dominions, thrones, and of course the cherubim and the seraphim; and all are often spoken of as “angels.” “Angel,” of course, means, “messenger,” and carrying messages has often been their function. Indeed, the angels and archangels are the most active as workers, warriors, and messengers of God to the world. Their function is to struggle against spiritual evil and to mediate between God and the world.

We must realize that these are spiritual beings, having no bodies or physical shape. Any descriptions are merely symbolic: descriptions such as “six-winged,” or “many-eyed,” or “in the shape of a man.” It would seem that they can assume the form of a person, as did Gabriel, Michael, or the two angels at Jesus’ tomb, or the one who led Peter out of prison. They do have the power to take various shapes, but have no form of their own.

Angels are individuals; they cannot be in more than one place at a time. They are indeed sent by God to perform specific duties. That is why Father Geoffrey Neal describes them as “secret agents.” We just sang of “Spirits of Grace, Messengers…subtle as flame” in the gradual hymn. (122) And, as we, they do not know the time of the Second Coming.

Scripture often associates angels with the stars. This seems to be a hint that their substance is similar to stars – a ball of fire and energy! Some think that the Christmas star was, in fact, an angel serving God in the assigned task of guiding worshippers to the place of Jesus’ birth.

It has been suggested that if we wish to improve our lives, we should be especially thoughtful and kind to strangers, for we never know when one might be an angel. (We may have seen many angels and not recognized them!) We will not know until eternity, but is that not an exciting possibility?

Now, as to our Michael: He is considered to be the greatest of the seven archangels, and one of only two mentioned in the canonical books of the Bible, Gabriel being the other. Two others, Raphael  and Uriel, are mentioned in the Apocryphal books. We sang of Michael, Raphael, and Gabriel in our opening hymn. (122)

In Daniel, we read of Michael as “The Prince, the Protector of God.”

In Jude, we find him contesting with the Devil over Moses’ body. Satan had charged that Moses, being a murderer, was not worthy of burial. Michael, though angered, did not condemn Satan, but merely rebuked him.

But probably the most familiar story we have of Michael is the Revelation reading used in place of an epistle today. We read of Michael and his good angels fighting with the Devil in heaven. The Devil is in the form of a serpent and accompanied by his evil angels. (Yes, there are such things as evil or “fallen” angels! Lucifer, or Satan, the fallen one, also was an archangel.) Michael is successful, and drives Satan and his followers out of Heaven.

Because of this story, Michael is usually portrayed with a sword or a spear, and often is shown standing triumphantly over the fallen serpent or dragon.

Michael is also referred to as a “Peacemaker,” as we sang in our opening hymn (123) this morning, and that seems to be confusing to some, since we usually think of him in the warrior role. I don’t find it confusing at all. If there were no such evil beings as Satan and his fallen angels, perhaps peace could exist without strong forces such as Michael. But Satan also is very real. Consequently, the only way to have peace is to be constantly prepared for conflict: in other words – to be a warrior.

This concept of Christians as warriors shows up in many of our hymns. “Go forward, Christian soldier,” is one (553) in which we are told not to dream of any rest “until Satan’s host is vanquished.” In “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” mention is made of Satan’s host fleeing at the sign of triumph! Peacemakers must be strong warriors.

Michael is a wonderful patron for our congregation. We should be very pleased that Father Hewett – now our Bishop – chose him when he founded our church. He is a symbol of strength, goodness, constancy, and victory – victory that brings peace! These are the characteristics that we need to emulate, as we continue to grow and serve God, here in Winchester.

And now, let us pray the prayer of St. Michael:

Holy Michael Archangel, defend us in the day of battle, be our safeguard against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God, thrust down to hell Satan and all wicked spirits who wander through the world for the ruin of souls.”

Amen

Hymns:

Processional – 123, 2nd tune – “Christ the fair glory of the holy angels”

Gradual – 122 – “Angels and ministers, spirits of grace”

Offertory – 120 – “Around the throne of God a band”

Communion – 197 – “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”

Recessional – 599 – “Ye watchers and ye holy ones”

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