The following sermons are from recent months, in reverse order — with the most recent one being the first one below.
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.”
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”
Sept. 24, 2017 15th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 210
O.T. Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 5:1-10
Epistle: Galatians 6:11-18
Gospel: St. Matthew 6:24-34
A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia
“Thy perpetual mercy” and “the frailty of man” (collect)
Those of us here at St. Michael’s, who are so happy to be associated with this church, may wonder why more people do not seek those qualities that are so important to us. I am always curious about this! We are a source of truth, untainted Holy Orders, and pure liturgy. We would imagine that there are many persons who would appreciate the holy atmosphere of this place, if they experienced what we have here, and learned a little about us. But also, we realize that Anglicanism is not for everyone – some do not appreciate the formality and liturgy that means so much to many of us.
Although we like to do things in our Anglican manner – all baptized Christians are members of the Church – Church with a capital “C” – the “Body of Christ.” All are members of “the blessed company of all faithful people,” as we pray in the “Thanksgiving after Communion.” We have to keep this in mind and not expect others to be exactly like we are, regarding worship and beliefs.
Looking through today’s propers each year, as I consider an appropriate theme for this Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity, I am always drawn to a few phrases in this morning’s collect: “the frailty of man” and “thy perpetual mercy,” are two of them. These are very descriptive terms – and they don’t have a thing to do with denominational preferences – they apply to all believers. All people are “frail” – and this “frailty of man” refers to both moral and physical characteristics. Moving to the other phrase – all believers are eligible to receive His “perpetual mercy.” Another important line is the prayer that we be led to “all things profitable to our salvation” – certainly a universal desire. Often, I feel that some other phrases that we find in scripture – such as “godly quietness,” for instance – are speaking directly to those who have a liturgical form such as ours. “Beauty of holiness” might seem to apply to the atmosphere in an Anglican, Roman or Orthodox Church. That is not so with these phrases we hear today. All of these points might remind us that there are many people – maybe involved in other denominations or perhaps with no particular church affiliation at all, who are every bit as aware of “the frailty of man,” and God’s “perpetual mercy,” as we are! They too, are seeking those “things profitable to our salvation.”
As I looked again at the propers for today, it occurred to me that “frailty of man” and “thy perpetual mercy” – two of the important phrases in these readings – seem to relate somewhat to some of my hospital-related experiences. I’ll share a couple of these with you. Both happened because I was wearing clerical clothing, as I usually do when visiting in a hospital. Both involved strangers.
In the first instance, I was standing outside a hospital room, waiting to be allowed in for a visit. A nurse appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and asked if I please could come with her to a nearby room and say a few prayers for a patient who was near death. On the way to the room, she explained that she had talked with the lady over the preceding few days, and that she was a Christian believer and knew she was close to the end, and now she was in an almost-comatose condition. What I found so reassuring here was the attitude of the nurse, and her wanting to bring a clergyman into the picture, and that she had been discussing the situation with the patient for a day or so. Very thoughtful! This is a real nurse – as are so many of those on the staff of that marvelous hospital.
There were no other visitors in the patient’s room. We prayed the prayers for the dying – and as I left afterward, I heard the nurse, in a very reassuring manner telling the patient that she was going to stay with her for a while. A day or so later, the patient’s obituary appeared in the paper. I was very glad that this lady had been fortunate in having such a thoughtful nurse in her final hours and that through her; I was allowed to participate in the patient’s transition. Because of the “frailty of man,” any of us could face a similar experience – but should that happen, because of God’s “perpetual mercy,” we know that we have nothing about which we should worry. “Be not anxious for the morrow,” Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading. (Matt. 6:34) The nurse in this case had a religious “feel” for all of this, and made certain her patient had access to all of the religious support she could summon. I have no idea of her affiliation – or that of the patient – but obviously, both were Christian believers.
On another occasion, I was leaving the coronary intensive care unit after visiting a friend – a dental colleague. As I was waiting for an elevator, a young lady spotted me, seemed glad to see me, and came over to me – almost as though she knew me – and I saw that she was almost in tears. She told me she had been looking for me – had noticed me downstairs in the lobby, earlier, and wanted to ask a favor – could I please say a prayer for her brother, who was in intensive care with a severe stroke? That was all she wanted – for me to say a prayer! I assured her that that was fine, but suggested that we go to see him, and accompanied her to the room in the intensive care unit. On the way to the room, as I usually do in these situations, I asked what the religious background might be – emphasizing that it doesn’t matter – I just find it a good way to “break the ice,” and get someone talking. Her reply was interesting – his religious background? – “Just God!” Then she added that she wanted him to have all the help she could get for him.
We had a few prayers and I administered Holy Unction, which I find is appreciated and helpful even to non-Anglicans – and even to very Protestant people. The lady was most appreciative – continually apologizing for taking my time, because we had been asked to wait a few minutes to get into intensive care – very thoughtful! I assured her an apology was not necessary – I certainly was pleased to be of help. Again, this person was aware of the “frailty of man,” and had faith in God’s “perpetual mercy,” even though my impression was that neither she nor her brother had much of a church connection. Even so, she wanted God’s help, and believed it was available. She seemed to be a very caring person.
Often, people will stop me in the hospital or parking lot and ask me to pray for a relative or friend. Some do not even stop – just ask in passing, “Please pray for my mother,” or something similar.
All of this calls to mind, a comment made to me a few years ago, as I accompanied one of our parishioners to surgery. In the pre-op preparation room, the surgeon made a point of thanking me for being with the patient, remarking that “they always seem to do better when clergy are here!” Well, I certainly think it helps – but it was encouraging that he acknowledged it! (A reminder – please be aware that when the schedule allows, I am happy to meet our parishioners at the hospital, and be available for prayer before surgery, if they wish!)
Human beings are frail, and we do need all the help we can get – and Christians know that through God’s “perpetual mercy,” that help is always available! “Perpetual mercy!” – it’s always there for the asking – or even when we don’t ask! As we read in the epistle), through the Cross, we are made new creatures – we die with Christ and we are reborn anew! Then we read that peace and mercy will be upon those who “walk according to this rule” (Gal. 6:16) – those who are born anew through Christ! God’s mercy again! We just prayed for that renewal in the gradual hymn – “Fill me with life anew!” (375)
Looking at today’s gospel, for a moment, we find that always-reassuring phrase – “Be not anxious for the morrow” (Matt. 6:34) – which, if followed literally, would probably result in our caring very little about anything – but that’s not what it is saying. It is not a license to believe and act in any way we wish. Let’s try to understand what Jesus is telling us in Matthew’s Gospel.
“Be not anxious for the morrow,” certainly does not mean we have nothing to worry about. It is a matter of placing things in the proper perspective. We do have to be concerned! But going back to His opening sentence today, we see that we are warned about trying to serve two masters – in this case, God and mammon. We are to “seek (ye) first, the kingdom of God,” (6:33) and then all of our really important needs will be met. What are “important needs”? There probably are no others! The only “important need” is – we just said it! – “The Kingdom of God”! If we put our thoughts and actions on achieving the “Kingdom of God,” all the rest will fall into place!
The point Jesus is making is that we are too anxious about material things in this life, and too concerned about our physical well-being. God will provide, but we need to help it along, to do as much as possible to provide for ourselves, and not expect our prayers to be answered in exactly the manner we ask. If we do as we should do, material blessings will come our way. The events and impulses that deprive us of our enjoyment of God’s bounty will be removed and God will play an even bigger role in our lives, influencing us as we make decisions in all facets of our lives. However, we must not forget that the primary objective of life is to seek the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.
The lesson this morning from the apocryphal book, Ecclesiasticus, gives us a warning about this – “Set not thy heart upon thy goods,” and “goods unjustly gotten will not profit thee in the day of calamity.” (5:8)
When we reach the final days of our life on earth, which we must, because of “the frailty of man,” we pray that through “God’s perpetual mercy,” the outcome will be “profitable to our salvation.” Amen
Processional – 153 – “Christ, whose glory fills the skies”
Gradual – 375, 2nd tune – “Breathe on me, Breath of God”
Offertory – 567 – “Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us”
Communion – 201 – “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands”
Recessional – 564 – “How firm a foundation”
Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity Sept. 17, 2017
Collect: p. 209
OT: Micah 6:1-8
Epistle: Galatians 5:16-24
Gospel: Luke 17:11-19
A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia
“… and he was a Samaritan” (St. Luke 17:16b)
We will talk a bit more about Samaritans this week. We heard about the “Good Samaritan” in last week’s gospel, and probably remember that story since our early days in Sunday school, but we may not remember much about Samaritans, as a group of people. We may wonder about the meaning of the line in this morning’s gospel reading – “… and he was a Samaritan.” Why is that bit of information important? What does that distinction imply about the other nine who were healed in this story from the Gospel according to St. Luke? And, what is a Samaritan, anyway?
One might think the term simply refers to those who lived in the ancient city of Samaria, but there is far more to the meaning than just from where these people might have come. It has a distinct connotation. And, it is helpful to realize that the term, “Samaria,” was used for the entire region – not just the city of the same name. Let’s have a little review of “Samaria.”
The city of Samaria was about 30 miles north of Jerusalem. It was chosen by King Omri as the site of the capital of Israel in about the year 875 BC, and its inhabitants followed various pagan religions. Temples to Baal were built there, started by Omri and completed by his son Ahab – and as time passed, the person who held the city of Samaria was, by virtue of that fact, the ruler or king of all Israel. In approximately 722 BC the Assyrians captured the city, and exiled the inhabitants to Syria, Assyria, and Babylonia. (Yes, although they sound similar, Syria and Assyria were two different areas.)
Then, there followed periods of repopulating and desolation – “ups” and “downs.” Prophets even brought forth threats of wild beasts being sent by God in retaliation for the paganism of the inhabitants – it was just a miserable time! In despair the people asked the king of Assyria for a priest, received one, and began to mix God into their religious practices. After being pretty desolate for some years, Samaria was repopulated with people from Babylonia, Assyria, and surrounding areas. These people intermarried with the remaining residents of the area who were Jews, creating a mixed race with foreign blood and false forms of worship. They worshipped idols, such as Baal, but also feared the Lord. They recognized only the first five books of the Old Testament as their authorized moral code, and disavowed all other scripture. Theirs was a confusing mix of beliefs!
These Samaritans also were very opportunistic. When convenient, they would emphasize their Jewish background, and disown the Assyrians. On the other hand, when the Jews were out of favor, they would simply downplay that portion of their heritage, and claim their Assyrian forefathers. By Jesus’ time, they had at least given up the polytheism, but continued to recognize only the first five “Mosaic” books, and even changed wording of those to suit their historic background. They practiced a strange religion. These are the reasons they were so despised by the pure Jews of Jesus’ time. By then, the word “Samaritan” had taken on a definitely derogatory connotation. “Samaritan” was quite an unfavorable term.
As today’s Gospel account points out that the subject was a Samaritan, we may conclude that the other nine recipients of Christ’s healing, or at least some of them, were not. They were most probably Jews, people from whom one would expect more appreciation of God’s blessings such as His curing them of their leprosy!
The Gospel readings from both of the past two weeks have involved Samaritans. Last week, we heard the familiar story of the “Good Samaritan” – who was the only passerby to stop and help someone in need. Today, we hear of the Samaritan who asked for help – healing from his disease – received it, and then was the only one of those healed who returned to say “thank you” to Jesus. We are talking a bit about both of these readings, today, since they are closely related. And, based on just these two incidents, one would have a pretty good opinion of the Samaritans, wouldn’t he?
Well, now, what is the scripture trying to tell us here? Why do we have these two episodes involving Samaritans, which seem to point out that they are not such “bad guys”?
Could it be that we are being told that there is some good in all people?
Last week, we saw the flaws in the personalities of the priest and Levite who saw the injured man, turned away from him, and left him alone and hurt – supposedly good people, who did not act very charitably in this instance. We saw charity in the Samaritan who, we are told, was a despised person – probably even by the man he was willing to help. We saw him dropping his immediate plans, going to the trouble of helping someone in need. He paid for it out of his own pocket without any expectation of repayment, and even offered to return and pay more if necessary! He may have been a “second-class” citizen in the eyes of many, but he certainly cared for his fellow man!
Then, today, we find a Samaritan as the only one of ten cured lepers who takes the time and effort to return and thank his Healer. He had received that which he had requested, had started on his way, we are told, but suddenly remembered his manners, and returned. The others did not do even that much!
In the collect for today, we pray, among other things, that we be given an increase in faith, hope, and charity, and that we may love God’s commandments so that we might obtain that which He has promised. This collect permeates throughout these two Gospel readings! Faith, hope, and charity!
The ten lepers all seemed to show some degree of faith and hope, in that they called upon Jesus for healing. They seemed to realize that it was within His power to do so. Notice that Jesus did not immediately pronounce a cure. Listen to His response: “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they went on their way, they were cleansed. I always wonder how far they had gone when they realized they were cured. Was it just a few yards, or did this fellow have to come back a mile or two – or more? And, when the Samaritan did return to give thanks, Jesus pointed out that it was his faith that made the cure possible! This man seemed to be the only one who was truly grateful for the charity bestowed upon him.
The Samaritan in last week’s reading certainly was the epitome of charity, as he put his own plans and interests aside, in order to care for one in need. He was “loving that which thou dost command,” as we read in the collect – “loving one’s neighbor as oneself.”
There are certain things that God has commanded us to do. These are duties of Christians. We are supposed to love those things that He has commanded – these duties. As we sang in our opening hymn (562), when duty calls or danger, we do not wish to be found wanting.
If the theme of last week’s Gospel is to love thy neighbor as thyself, and this week’s is to be thankful for one’s blessings, it seems that the message of the two together might be that we should show our gratitude by doing good deeds for our fellow man. We certainly should give thanks directly to God, through prayer, but when we show that gratitude also by obeying his wishes that we love others as ourselves, we are putting that gratitude into action. It’s the familiar faith or works question, and as always, we cannot really separate the two!
In the gradual hymn (515), which we just sang, we ask that, from above, we have poured upon us all skill, science, pity, courage, faith and hope! We ask that we may use these gifts in noble thought and deed that we may rise, like incense, to God! That is the prayer we offer in the collect this morning. And, if we have all of these blessings poured upon us, and use them as illustrated by – of all people, the Samaritans in our Gospels – we will be following that most important commandment – to love others as ourselves!
We often find in scripture, some little twist that adds tremendous emphasis to the point being made. That is what we have here. An important thrust of these stories is that we must recognize that there is good in all of God’s creatures. Sure, it’s hard to find in some cases; sometimes we really have to “dig” to find it; sometimes we are so “turned off” that we do not wish to dig too hard. It’s easier to pass on the other side of the road, or to keep on walking after receiving the cure. But, in these stories, the use of the most despised form of human being at that time – the Samaritan – as the subject, brings home to us that God created all, and He did put redeeming qualities in all of us. These stories would have been interesting without that ingredient, but using it adds so much emphasis!
So, in this regard, let us emulate these Samaritans!
Processional – 562 – “Stand up, stand up, for Jesus”
Gradual – 515 – “From thee all skill and science flow”
Offertory – 378 (2nd) – “Come gracious Spirit, heavenly Dove”
Communion –202 (2nd tune) – “Draw nigh and take the Body of the Lord”
Recessional – 402 – “O word of God incarnate”
September 10, 2017 13th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 207
OT: Ecclesiasticus 17:1-15
Epistle: Galatians 3:16-22
Gospel: St. Luke 10:23-37
A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia
“…to attain thy heavenly promises” (collect)
The Old Testament lesson today, from the book of the Apocrypha, Ecclesiasticus, is a brief synopsis of the Creation Story – “The Lord created man of the Earth, and turned him into it again.” (17:1) That phrase sounds like Genesis (3:19) – “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” As we read farther on, we find that God has given us a short, fixed period of time on earth, and dominion over other creatures on earth; He has given us senses such as eyes and ears; speech, and powers of understanding, and discernment. Then we read that He has established a covenant with Man, and “showed him his judgments.” (17:1) All in all, this is a pretty thorough rundown on what we are, on how temporary is our nature on earth, and on where we stand in relation to God. We are subject to His Commandments and judgments, but we also know that there are for us, as we read in the collect – “heavenly promises.”
Our other readings, this morning, are about these Commandments and judgments. I have always found the epistle reading today, from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, to be somewhat confusing. When it comes up in the propers, I often pass over it and use the “Good Samaritan” story from today’s Gospel as a text. This morning, we will lean more heavily on the epistle and attempt to pull all of these readings together. The Old Testament reading seems to get us started in that direction, and also there is that line in the collect that serves as a one-line text for today – “…to attain thy heavenly promises.” Is that not our most important goal?
First, let’s review the background for this epistle – this letter to the Galatians. Galatia was a Roman province in central Asia Minor. Its capital was what is now called Ankara, in modern Turkey. It was called “Galatia,” and its people, “Galatians,” because they had come from Gaul, before migrating to Asia Minor.
It is unclear as to exactly when Paul wrote this letter. Most probably, it was about ten or fifteen years after the Crucifixion, but the reason for writing it is very clear.
Paul had become upset with reports that the Galatians were being taken over by Jewish teachers who professed following Jesus, but, contrary to His teachings, were strict followers of the Law, and were attempting to place Gentile converts under the Law. Paul seems to have had these problems with his churches. Last week, we heard of a similar situation with the church in Corinth – the same problem with intruders! This letter was Paul’s effort to get the Galatians off the “Gospel of Works,” and back to the “Gospel of Faith.” That was the stimulus for writing this epistle – Paul’s strong feelings on “Salvation by Faith.”
In this epistle reading today, Paul refers to the promise, or covenant, made to Abraham and his descendants. Paul discusses the term, “covenant,” and that, once properly executed a covenant may not be annulled, invalidated, or modified. It is a legal agreement, and God keeps His promises.
If that is so, then, what is this “Law,” which was given to Moses some 430 years following the covenant with Abraham?
Paul’s answer: It was added because of Man’s transgressions; added as a temporary measure – not to change or annul the original covenant with Abraham – but to help reveal the distinction between righteousness and sin, until the arrival of Christ. The Law turned moral transgressions into legal offenses. This was intended to help guide behavior until Christ’s coming.
In going to the Cross, Christ freed us from bondage to the Law. Paul tells us that since we died with Jesus on the Cross, our sins died with Him. Now, we are reborn, and Christ lives in us and we live in Him. As we will sing in the offertory hymn in a moment, “Triumphant o’er the world and sin, the Prince of Peace…For ever reigns.” (285)
We live by faith in Him, and are not bound by the details of the Law. In the fifth chapter of Galatians, Paul tells us to “Stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.” (Galatians 5:1)
This freedom from the Law needs a bit of explanation. Obviously, Christ’s death and resurrection did not free us from obeying God’s will: quite the contrary! And, are we still under the jurisdiction of the Ten Commandments? We certainly are! (That is why we have a reminder – and read the entire Decalogue on the first Sunday of each month, as we did last week!)
Jesus tells us He has come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. We are to obey all of the Ten Commandments.
At first glance, Paul may appear to disagree with this line. He seems to imply that the Ten Commandments were intended to be valid only until the arrival of Christ!
The clarifying factor in all of this is Christ, of course. Paul is not setting aside the Law or rejecting it. When he says he is now under Christ’s law, he is not referring to a new set of laws. He is a follower of Christ, and filled with His Spirit, linked with Him, and sharing the power of the Holy Spirit. If we follow Christ’s example, we will obey His law. The difference is that Christ’s law does not enslave those who are unable to keep it. It is a good and perfect law, which sets us free.
For all of this to work for us, we must have a genuine love for Christ. We must relate to Him as He is – living with us and listening to us through our prayers, our thanks, and our requests. We should feel His Presence as we pray and especially at the Holy Table as we receive His Body and Blood. Our love for Christ, and our faith in God – if genuine, and continually developed through study, prayer, fasting and participation – will take care of following the Law, without our ever even being aware of it.
We will develop a certain “naturalness” – a simple sense of ease and calm in our lives, which will carry us through the trials of our daily routines with assurance that we are following His commandments. And, when we do stray, we will know it immediately and, through His grace, at our request, forgiveness is provided. As mentioned last week, this is the main difference in the Old and New Covenants – the provision for remission of sins!
As Paul develops his thoughts on salvation by faith, in the middle portion of his letter to the Galatians – including today’s reading – he makes a number of observations, which support his beliefs.
He tells the Galatians that they began by faith in Christ, and that they must continue in that faith, if they are to grow in Christ. He is not happy that these false teachers are reverting to the teaching that strict obedience to the Law is the only way to obtain salvation.
Abraham was justified by faith: that principle has not changed. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to demonstrate his faith! The Mosaic Law did not supersede the covenant between God and Abraham. The purpose of the Law was not to save men, but to prod them back into the faith, which would save them.
Now, Christ has redeemed all of those who trust in Him; freed them from the requirement of circumcision and other details of the Jewish Law – and provided a means for forgiveness!
Paul implores the Galatians to look carefully at what is happening to them and return to their original, proper path of freedom through faith in Christ. “If righteousness comes by law,” Paul says, “then Christ died for nothing.” (2:21)
If one picks up the Book of Common Prayer, and reads this epistle without being familiar with the context of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he will find it very confusing. One needs to read the entire letter in order to get the real feel for Paul’s reasons for this writing. Even doing that with the King James Version, does not make it completely clear. This is another of those situations in which it is helpful to cross-check with the New English Bible for clarification. It may help decipher some of the more confusing lines in the King James Version.
If you do read through the entire book, you will realize just how disturbed Paul was when he wrote this letter. For instance: “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you that you should not obey the truth?” (Galatians 3:1) (In the New English Bible, that line begins, “O, you stupid Galatians!”)
Paul’s message was very clear. The combination of our faith in God and Christ’s sacrifice for us has set us free. These are the means to our salvation.
Certainly we have to follow the Commandments, but if we have the faith and love for Christ, which Paul teaches, obeying them will come very naturally.
If we need further assurance on the proper path to salvation, we will find it very clearly in today’s gospel. When asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”(Luke 10:24) Jesus responded with the question, “What is written in the Law?”
And the questioner recited, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”
Jesus assured him, and us, that yes, if we do these things, we shall live.
Salvation by faith! Faith and love for God – and our neighbors – will keep us well within the bounds of the Commandments and on the proper path to Eternal Life. All of these actions that we have discussed this morning constitute “doing the true and laudable service,” that we mention in the collect, as making it possible for us “to attain thy heavenly promises.”
Processional – 351 – “Praise the Lord through every nation”
Gradual – 463 (Alt tune, which is 218) – “O thou who camest from above” Offertory 285 (1st tune) – “The God of Abraham praise”
Communion 195 – “Father, we thank thee who hast planted”
Recessional 299 – “Sing praise to God, who spoke through man”
September 3, 2017 12th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 206
OT: Ecclesiasticus 15:11-20
Epistle: II Corinthians 3:4-9
Gospel: St. Mark 7:31-37
“Almighty God, You are wont to give us more than either we desire or deserve” (collect)
Paraphrasing today’s collect, we might say, “God you are always more willing to listen to us than we are to talk with you. We are afraid; we have a sense of unworthiness that sometimes makes it difficult to offer our prayers. And yet, through Christ’s merits and mediation, you are always giving us more than we desire or deserve.”
Hearing that word, “deserve,” always reminds me of the way it is used so often in advertising. Advertisers frequently tell us we are deserving of the best in automobiles, or hotels, or stereo equipment, or vacation spots – or “what-have-you,”. We may wonder just what we have done to make us so “deserving” of these items. I always do! And, I wonder – how do these advertisers recognize me, in particular, as being so deserving? They make it sound so personal! How do they know anything about me?
Well, of course, they don’t know anything about me as an individual.
But, God does know all about us, and yes, He knows that this planet is inhabited by people who are not particularly deserving. However, as we read on in this collect, we recognize that it does not matter that we are undeserving. It is God’s abundant mercy and the mediation of our Lord Jesus Christ that provides us with these “good things for which we are not worthy to ask.”
This collect is a wonderful example of a proper form of prayer in that it leads off with the recognition that we are sinners; are not deserving; have our priorities all mixed up; are not as ready to pray as we should be. Then, we ask for mercy and for whatever God thinks we should have. Sometimes, when we pray, we get a bit too specific, perhaps like a child who, at bedtime in the weeks before Christmas, has his list all prepared and based on what he has seen in stores or on television. This is understandable for a child, but too specific for most of our prayers, not allowing God any “leeway.”
One of the oldest, simplest, and most sincere prayers is the “Jesus Prayer,” which we mentioned last week – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” That says everything important and leaves in the proper hands the decision as to what we should receive. I find that prayer helpful when I need “bolstering up” during a trying day. I used that one a great deal when practicing dentistry! (Not everyone was an ideal dental patient – and not all of my treatment worked out perfectly, one-hundred percent of the time. I used that prayer quite frequently!) “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The epistle reading today ties in with the thrust of the collect, as Paul reminds the Corinthians that people are not sufficient of themselves – not self-sufficient – but that we depend on God for everything – for all of our blessings.
This Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians was probably written later on in the same year as his first letter, approximately 56 AD, but has a different “tone.” In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul addresses the problems, divisions, and disorder in the Church at Corinth. Following that first letter, false teachers, who undermined Paul’s leadership, had swayed the Corinthians. He then sent Titus to deal with these problems, and was delighted to hear, when Titus returned, that the majority had repented and now were safely back in Paul’s “camp.”
So, this second letter was written to express thanks to those of that majority, and also to try to bring back the ones who were continuing to rebel. The theme of this letter then, is Paul’s defense of his credentials and his authority. In conjunction with that theme, he moves into a discussion of his philosophy of ministry. That portion provides us with today’s reading, in which he contrasts the old and the new covenants.
The Old Covenant, he says, was a strict written word, the “letter of the Law,” written in stone and so “scary” that the Israelites could not behold the face of Moses after he had brought it to them. His face shone with a brilliance so bright that he covered it with a veil.
But the old Law had no power to bring about obedience; its only effect was to increase the consciousness of guilt and therefore kill any hope of forgiveness.
The New Covenant is established through Christ, has the provision for remission of guilt, and works through the Holy Spirit. It makes all of us ministers who spread the Gospel throughout the world and also makes it possible for us to meet the righteous demands of God.
The Old Covenant, Paul tells us, was a ministration of death, engraved (“engraven”) in stone, yet still a glorious covenant. But, if that ministration of death is glorious, he says, how much more glorious is the new covenant – the ministration of the Spirit?
The collect today, then, seems to reflect some of both covenants. We do feel the guilt and unworthiness ingrained in us through the Law, yet we have faith in our Mediator, Jesus Christ, and the workings of the Holy Spirit. This faith enables us to pray and believe that “good things, which pass man’s understanding,” are constantly being done for us.
This collect can be of help to us in our personal prayers and in our discussions with God. It can help improve the quality of our prayers. It can serve as a model as we compose our petitions. And, using the Law – the Ten Commandments – is helpful. As we read down the list, we soon see that indeed we are unworthy to ask for anything! All of us fall short in at least some areas; surely not in adultery or murder, but perhaps to some degree in coveting, or not properly keeping the Sabbath, or losing our tempers and saying something we shouldn’t.
We are expected to pray on a daily basis. A good way to accomplish this is to use the Daily Offices – Morning and Evening Prayer – each day. The use of these will provide a regularity and proper format and lead us into our discussions with God. Throughout the day, if we need help as we start a project, a few words of prayer are helpful, but how about a prayer of thanks after something has gone well? (I used to do that in dentistry, also!) Perhaps something we expected to be a “disaster” turned out with quite the opposite result. Most of us fall short in giving God thanks for those things that He must have orchestrated on our behalf.
And, when we pray, as our collect suggests, let us pray for mercy and for those things that God knows we require, and not for specific things or for outcomes that we think we need.
There are exceptions, of course, to this specificity of prayer. When a loved one is ill, of course we pray for restoration of health, and for guidance of physicians. When there is a war, of course we pray that it may be resolved quickly and that our loved ones serve with honor and return home safely. When there is a death, of course we pray for the repose of the soul of the deceased, and that he will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.
But, in many situations, there may be several possible outcomes. The one we personally prefer may not be the one God selects in responding to our prayers, but we must realize that He hears all of our requests and He does answer all of our prayers. It is His choice, however, as to how they are answered.
So, when considering prayer, we should:
- Pray often and regularly,
- Acknowledge our unworthiness,
- Ask for mercy, and
- Not have a preconceived notion of the answer.
The Jesus Prayer meets all of these criteria.
And, we should realize that blessings are being bestowed for which prayers have not yet been offered! God is way ahead of us!
Another very good prayer which may serve as a model for us and which emphasizes these points is one of the general collects, found at the bottom of page 49 in the Book of Common Prayer. You may find it helpful in many situations.
Let us bow our heads as we close with that collect:
“Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, who knowest our necessities before we ask, and our ignorance in asking; We beseech thee to have compassion upon our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask, vouchsafe (be gracious enough) to give us, for the worthiness of thy Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Processional: 157 (2nd) – “Father, we praise thee, now the night is over” Gradual: 267 – “Holy Father, great Creator”
Offertory: 304 – “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”
Communion: 210 – “Deck thyself, my soul, with gladness”
Recessional: 301– “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”
August 27, 2017 11th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 204
O.T. Lesson: Isaiah 26:12-16, 19
Epistle: I Cor. 15:1-11
Gospel: St. Luke 18:9-14
A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia
“I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.” (St. Luke 18:11)
The “Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican” is another of those stories, to which I often refer as being a “natural.” I have used it as the theme for sermons many times – and each time, I find myself wondering if perhaps I might be guilty of some of the Pharisee’s shortcomings.
In wording his prayer as he did, the Pharisee in the temple made an unfortunate mistake. He compared himself to the publican, and seems to have concluded that because of his day-to-day, routine behavior, he was a better person than the other man. Now, he did not exaggerate his own attributes. He probably was a faithful member of the Church. He did go to the Temple and pray; He did tithe and observe the fasts and other disciplines of the Church. He was doing the right things, but perhaps he was not doing enough – and this comparison business is troubling.
Actually, he was not doing anything out of the ordinary or above and beyond the normal expectations. These were the usual forms of behavior for Jews – especially the Pharisees.
The publican (or tax collector) on the other hand, merely went into the temple and confessed to God that he was a sinner, and asked for forgiveness and mercy. Does this sound familiar? It is very similar to the “Jesus Prayer” – “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Jesus, in explaining this parable, announced that it was the publican, not the Pharisee, who went home acquitted of his sins. The familiar line from the parable explains that “everyone who exalts himself shall be abased; and he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” (St. Luke 18:14) I always enjoy using this parable – it emphasizes such an important point. Occasionally, I even work it into a sermon when it is not in the propers for the day.
There are things expected of Christians, which we are taught to do early in our religious lives: attending church services, praying, donating part of our time and money back to God, obeying the Commandments set down for us. All of these actions are the “norm,” not really building up “good points” in our favor, to be “cashed in” later, and maybe exchanged for preferential treatment in entering the Heavenly Kingdom. For us, this is just routine behavior.
These two men, when they went into the Temple to pray, were equals in the eyes of God. But, by criticizing his neighbor, the Pharisee actually slipped a little. He showed a lack of humility – exalted himself, which cost him dearly. This is a hard lesson for us. We might think that our faithfulness, our unselfishness, and our obedience would guarantee our place in Heaven – or at least help us in that pursuit. But remember – it is not our works that gain us everlasting life! It is God’s love and mercy which do that! We recognize that in the collect for today, as we state “O, God, who declarest thy mighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity…” This seems to say that the primary method, by which He demonstrates His power, is by being merciful and granting forgiveness!
Also, although our Anglican ways of worship suit us and work better for us in following Christ, we don’t have an edge there, either, as far as getting into heaven is concerned. Other denominations are, in the eyes of God, on an equal basis with us. We are not following the only way; we are following the way that Anglicans believe is most accurately based on the teachings of the early Church. But our way is not the only way! In the prayer of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion, we recognize that “we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people.”
If this is true, then why should we be affiliated with this church, or the Diocese of the Holy Cross, or any other organized church, for that matter? Why can we not just try to live a good life, treat our neighbors as ourselves, attend a church – any church – when it suits us, and not be regularly affiliated with any particular one? If it is not important to God where we attend, maybe we do not even need any affiliation, and can be good Christians on our own. I have been asked about that very point – no – not asked, but have been told by many that that is how they feel.
Well, it’s not that it is unimportant to God that we attend church. Of course it is important! We must be members of “the Church” in order to obtain salvation. Let’s remember that the Church is the Body of Christ, of which Jesus Christ is the Head, and all baptized people are members – not just Anglicans or Episcopalians, but also Lutherans, Romans, Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, or “what-have-you.” We are not baptized into a denomination. We are baptized into Christ’s Holy Church! God probably does not care where we attend Church, but He probably does care that we attend some part of His Church, somewhere – and one that adheres to His Holy Scripture! Of course, that may exclude quite a few groups, today! It has become difficult to find a church that truly follows scripture! God wants us to be working members of His Church. He wants us to be followers of His Commandments. We know these criteria! Once we know these, then they become obligations to be followed, just as the Pharisee had obligations. They become “minimum standards,” and we have to do them in order to be on an equal level with others, even with those who don’t profess being aware of His desires. We have accepted for ourselves a more difficult entry level to obtain Life Everlasting. If we know God’s wishes and do not follow them, we are lower in His eyes than those who are as yet uninformed.
The Pharisee’s prayer, “I thank Thee that I am not as other men are,” (St. Luke 8:11) is an example of the wrong approach. It shows a lack of humility. A much better prayer would be, “I thank Thee for showing me the proper paths and ask that You help me follow them.” This is just a little difference in wording, but it is a vast difference in meaning – a difference that exhibits humility – and today’s theme seems to be humility – as it often is.
Clement the First, when he was Bishop of Rome around 95-100 A. D. wrote to the church at Corinth to help quell a disturbance there – a revolt by young people trying to overthrow the elders. Part of his letter dealt with “humility.” He urged that they “be humble and put away all pretension, and arrogance, and foolishness, and anger.” He continues, “The Holy Spirit says let not the wise man boast of wisdom, nor the strong man of his strength, nor the rich man of his wealth, but let him boast in the Lord, so that he will seek him and do justice and righteousness.”
Clement referred to Humility as the “cardinal virtue,” and states that “it is to the humble that Christ belongs, not to those who exalt themselves over His flock.”
Christ Himself, came to us, lived and died on earth in the most humble circumstances – born in a stable, lived and traveled among the poor, and died among criminals in the mode of death used for criminals. His whole life was an expression of humility.
He invites us to come to Him saying, “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matt 11:29) Meek and lowly – the humility of Jesus.
Humility has often been called the “Mother of all virtues,” and pride – its opposite – has been referred to as “the cause of all sin.” There are countless biblical references to humility and pride. The offertory hymn is a prayer that we be stripped of pride and clothed in humility. (451)
From time-to-time, most of us may fall into the pattern of the Pharisee in today’s parable. We need to be on guard that we do not let ourselves feel so good about our own relationship with God, that we overlook those who do not have such a relationship. We may actually feel, as did the Pharisee, that we are in a better light in God’s eyes, than other people are.
All creatures on earth are God’s creatures. Those of us who know Him are extremely fortunate that His grace has shone upon us; but those who are not yet aware of His Kingdom are very much in need of our services – our help in bringing them into the Church.
We must not be like the Pharisee. He made several mistakes that day in the Temple. He exalted himself, thanking God, it is true, but claiming that he was above other people. Then he cast aspersions toward the publican; not what one should do, and especially in a prayer!
And then, in what was probably his worst mistake, he did not extend a hand of welcome to someone who wished to repent.
Our collect this morning asks that we may be granted “such a measure of grace that we, running the way of His Commandments, may obtain His gracious promises, and be made partakers of His Heavenly Kingdom.” Let us make that prayer, not just for ourselves, but on behalf of others such as the publican – in all of his humility.
Hymns: Processional – 477 – “God himself is with us”
Gradual – 439 – “My soul with patience waits”
Offertory – 451 – “Lord, for ever at thy side”
Communion – 204 – “Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen”
Recessional – 599 – “Ye watchers and ye holy ones”
August 20, 2017 10th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 203
O.T. Lesson: Ecclesiasticus 1:1-10
Epistle: I Cor. 12:1-11
Gospel: St. Luke 19:41-47
A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.
The text this morning is a little unusual, in that it is a line from our gradual hymn:
“Let us teach the precious things the Lord dost impart.” (Hymn 574)
Fairly often, I am asked about our church by members of other denominations – perhaps visitors or friends or former patients I might run into somewhere. I imagine that from time to time, you also, have been asked questions about us. We must be aware that people who ask these questions are doing so from a viewpoint based on their own past experiences. That viewpoint makes a real difference! We should try to answer in a manner that they will understand. Many Methodists, Baptists, or Presbyterians, or whatever they might be, including Episcopalians – and perhaps especially contemporary Episcopalians – may not expect us to be so different in so many ways. Many of these assume that all Protestant churches are pretty much alike. And then, there are others who expect us to be even more different! Those are the ones who have been told how strange “Catholics” are – and that we are almost as odd! This has been called “the Protestant Veto” – that tendency to be suspicious of anything “Catholic.” Well, here’s some news – we are Catholic! Not Roman Catholic, but Catholic in the sense that our heritage is the ancient, undivided, Christian Church! Anglicans have maintained “a historical and continuous tradition of faith and practice.” Those characteristics fit the definition of “Catholic.” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church) We are very definitely Anglo-Catholic!
Among the various denominations, there will be different thoughts on such particulars as music, liturgy, women clergy, forms of baptism, methods and meanings of Holy Communion – or any of the sacraments for that matter. Many denominations do not recognize all seven of the sacraments. And, just giving an answer as to how we do something is not enough – such practices as as reverencing the altar or using holy water – and these may be a real “turn-off” to those having a different denominational background. It takes a bit of study to learn why we do things as we do them in our liturgy, and why we believe as we do – our views on receiving communion, for instance. Our “closed communion is troubling to many, but is based on our beliefs regarding the “Real Presence” and what takes place during the Canon of Consecration in the Holy Eucharist. In my younger days, the Episcopal Churches that I attended strongly observed “closed communion” – but most do not anymore! Most Protestant denominations practice open communion and members automatically assume that all others do. They may feel that we are overly restrictive and not very hospitable. An explanation can help. In order to learn, those inquiring people need to spend some time with us! Everything we do is based on scripture, and they need some time to understand that! A single visit will not allow one to obtain an accurate picture of Anglicanism! I always suggest to visitors that they return several times before forming opinions about us.
I have had some exposure to other churches and forms of liturgy. In the first few years of my life, my family attended Presbyterian and Methodist churches, but I do not remember much about those experiences. I have visited in other denominations, of course – mostly Baptist, Methodist, and especially Presbyterian, since Pat was a member of that denomination when we were married, and remained so for quite some time thereafter. She had been heavily exposed to the “Protestant Veto”! When in dental school in Atlanta, we alternated our attendance at churches of both denominations. However, I never felt comfortable in other denominations – never felt that I really had “been to church.” The liturgy is very important to me! At that time, Pat was not comfortable in the Episcopal Church, either.
My Episcopal experience began when I was about five, when my family moved to a new town. Because of new friends, we began attending an Episcopal Church – and I remained an Episcopalian until coming to St. Michael’s in 1994. So – all through that period of time (for over forty years!), I was participating in the liturgy with which I had grown up – at least until the Episcopalians “monkeyed” with it and came up with the awful 1979 form. As I traveled in the Air Force, college, and then to Berryville – where Pat and I moved in 1961 – I always sought out a local Episcopal Church – without even thinking of another option. That was my church and that was where I belonged – and I was always comfortable there – until about 1979! Actually, some of the discomfort started before that, with the various “trial liturgies.”
I realized that many things were happening –already had happened, without my realizing – and these were things that really did matter! Scripture and tradition were being disregarded.
Ordination of women was being discussed – and then adopted – first, only for the diaconate, which the supporters said was all that they wanted – but then for the priesthood also, as everyone knew would happen – and eventually, the Episcopate. Many of us had a feeling this was wrong, but really didn’t understand why. The country was in a civil rights “frame of mind,” and tended to look at such issues from that standpoint – and not from one based on scripture. It was said to be only “fair,” that women could seek the priesthood! Well, fairness has nothing to do with it – and it is not a “civil rights” issue! It is a scriptural one.
This brings up another point: skeptics will often ask, “Where does it say in the Bible that women cannot be priests, or that infants shall be baptized, or that Christ is Really Present in the Sacrament” – or something similar. They always seem to expect a “one-line” answer – one bible verse – to answer every question. Often, such issues are not addressed in that manner in the Bible. One might have to consider a general philosophy or theme running through scripture – something that is supported in many biblical locations – perhaps through the entire Bible, but never specifically addressed in one verse. That is a reason the traditions and ecumenical councils are important as “stabilizers.” The Church Universal – the Catholic Church – has made these determinations and interpretations, as a body assembled, long before the Protestant churches came into existence.
In 1979, the new, so-called, “Book of Common Prayer” was adopted – a really radical new book – not just an update or revision of the 1662, 1789, and 1928 books, as it was advertised to be. Since it is new, it should not be called the “Book of Common Prayer,” but perhaps something such as “Episcopal Book of Services.” It is not just a new version of the historic liturgy.
Many of the changes were placed to provide for, or at least support, the ordination of women, so gender-specific references were changed.
The moral let-down in the country was supported in the new prayer book, as many of the “judgmental” readings in the propers were removed or relegated to obscure daily office slots, where they would not be heard on Sundays. Wording was changed in various prayers – we were no longer, “miserable offenders,” for instance, in the 1979 book. After all, they didn’t want to make people feel guilty – no matter what they were doing! The object was to make them feel good about themselves. This would attract more people, and expand the rolls. We can see from all of this, how the new prayer book, with its liturgy; the ordination of women; and the homosexual movement – the decline in morals – are all tightly wrapped together!
Shortly after her election, the first female Presiding “Bishop” of the Episcopal Church remarked, “You don’t all have to profess exactly the same understandings of the central tenets of the faith.” She added, “What’s important is to worship together.” I think she is very, very, wrong, and that this indicates one of the primary problems with churches today. I believe that members of a denomination do have to have “the same understandings of the central tenets” – maybe not on all of the details, but certainly on the major points! Some don’t seem to care what their group believes – probably don’t even know! The Presiding “Bishop” stated that it doesn’t matter anyway! They don’t care how they worship – whether they are following our Lord’s command to “Do this in remembrance of me,” or something entirely different! Some just get together and make some noise and clap their hands. And, ironically, we traditionalists lose many people, or don’t get them in the first place – especially young people – because we don’t do it that way!
Amazingly, to me at least, those “happy-clappy” churches, of all denominations, seem to be the ones that are growing. It is hard to understand people moving from a strong liturgical discipline such as ours or the Roman Catholic, or Orthodox denominations, to that sort of environment – but some have done that. I would think they would miss the liturgy, solemnity, and religious atmosphere. That they don’t is tragic and speaks strongly of our society! People seem to want their individual behavior upheld, regardless of scriptural guidelines. They want a more “feel-good” type of religion – not an instructive one.
Example of the “feel good” changes: that awful, terribly disruptive, milling around while “passing the peace” that was included in the 1979 book. That was one of the final “straws” that took me out of the Episcopal Church!
I suppose it always has been the case, but it seems that many people today have their minds pretty well set – their personal feelings – and seek a church that agrees with, and perhaps validates their views on various issues, regardless of denomination. Some of those issues might be abortion, homosexuality, women’s ordination, or divorce and remarriage. It seems to me that a better method is to find a group with good, solid, tradition and scripturally-based liturgy and clergy – and then learn the Church’s teachings – Christ’s teachings – on the issues. We’ll pray for this in the offertory hymn in a few moments – “O teach me Lord that I may teach the precious things thou dost impart.” (574) There it is – that is the text for today! Notice the first phrase, “Teach me, Lord.” We need to learn, before we pass that knowledge on to others! I try to structure my sermons with that in mind – try to teach a little in each one.
New people need to be melded into a congregation, feel that they have become a part of it, and allowed to learn – especially if they are from another discipline. I hope that you will keep these points in mind as you talk with people. I ask that you do all that you can to make us known to your friends and acquaintances that might have their needs met in our church. I don’t mean to be “pushy,” but if the subject comes up, offer to help them learn about St. Michael’s! We have a great deal to offer – a traditional, historic liturgy that is not available just anywhere, is a strong point. Another is our strong moral attitude. We have pure sacraments, administered by clergy in untainted Holy Orders – one of the most important reasons for our existence! We have all of this, a wonderful, warm congregation, and an organist who provides marvelous music! What more could one desire? We have a great deal of which to be proud!
“Let us teach the precious things the Lord dost impart.” (Hymn 574)
Processional – 158, 2nd tune – “O splendor of God’s glory bright”
Gradual – 451 – “Lord, for ever at thy side”
Offertory – 574, 2nd tune – “Lord, speak to me, that I may speak”
Communion – 207, 1st tune – “Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest”
Recessional – 545, 1st tune – “Hail to the Lord’s anointed”
Aug. 13, 2017 9th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 200
O.T. Wisdom 11:21-12:2
Epistle: I Cor. 10:1-13
Gospel: St. Luke 15:11-32
A sermon by the Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia
”This thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
We heard the Parable of the Prodigal Son this morning, as the gospel selection. For some reason, I have never used it as the main theme for a sermon, although it is a “natural.” There are many side issues in this most famous of Jesus’ parables that are worthy of consideration, and I have touched on them from time-to-time.
First – what is meant by “prodigal”? It is defined as, “wastefully or recklessly extravagant.” Then, we might wonder why the father gave the younger son his share so readily, why the older son seemed to have been treated unfairly, and why he seemed so unforgiving. He resembles the Corinthians in our epistle reading today. They believed that they were entitled to preferential treatment – in their case, because of their church membership. Because of his obedience – the older brother felt he was due preferential treatment from his father – and was resentful of his brother.
Let’s look at some of these aspects of this parable. First – why was the father so agreeable in giving his sons their inheritance? Why – merely because the younger son made this unusual request – was he willing to do so? We can’t help wondering if the father gave them all of his estate. We read that “he divided his living,” which implies that he did, but I’m inclined to believe that he merely made a gift of a large part of it – but even so – why? Obviously, it was because he had great love for his sons. He seems to have been very wealthy and perhaps was inclined to overindulge them. He must have had a great sense of fairness, also – to give to both of them equal amounts, even though the older son made no request, and the younger son requested only his own share of the estate. The father obviously wanted to treat the sons equally. He did not rate them as to their personal characteristics. That is how God treats us.
Why did the younger son make this unusual request? As we read this account, we start to get a mental picture of an older son who is pretty solid, mature – and I can picture him as the person running his father’s business, taking a rather serious approach to life, and quite a contrast to the younger brother. It always brings to my mind, the movie, “Sabrina” – with Humphrey Bogart as the older and more serious son, and William Holden as the younger, carefree playboy. The father loved both, but he really depended on the older son – the younger was left pretty much on his own to play and spend money as he wished, and contributing very little to the family’s business enterprises. His interests were girls and parties. I seem to remember that he had been married and divorced three times.
In the parable, the younger son was thinking only of the present moment – had no thought of the future and how he might earn his way in this world. He knew the family resources would care for him, throughout his life.
We also wonder why the younger son left the area. We read that he “took his journey into a far country.” I wonder if he knew that, in the long run, his lifestyle would cause him to fall into disfavor with his father – perhaps even affect his chances of an inheritance. He didn’t have any interest in changing his ways. Was he trying to get the money while he could, get away from the area, and be able to spend it without his father’s interference? Probably so!
Of course, his outcome is very predictable. Without any sense of values, he quickly ran through his inheritance – lost all of his money, dignity, and friends – if indeed he had even made any “real” friends. He found someone who gave him a menial job that did not pay him enough even to obtain food. He hit the absolute “bottom,” before finally realizing that poor workers in his father’s fields were in far better shape than he. Sometimes, people have to reach that lowest point in order to realize their plight!
By this time, he was quite desperate and saw only one “ticket” back into the good life. He threw away all pride, returned to his father and begged forgiveness and the opportunity to start over at the very bottom of his father’s business. Obviously a very generous and forgiving person – the father welcomed the wayward son back into his household and celebrated with a great feast.
All is well – or is it? Now we have unexpected response from the older son. Jealous of the warm welcome his brother received, he lashes out, making comparisons and feeling that he has been treated unfairly by his father. He truly felt that, because of his hard work, faithful service, and loyalty, he was entitled to more than his brother. He resented his father’s acceptance of the brother. The father insisted on treating the two as equals – and in fact was especially happy for the prodigal’s return. ”This thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:32)
Today’s epistle is one that Paul wrote to the Corinthians warning them about their behavior, which was straying off a proper course. He wrote this letter because of their actions and attitudes. In it, he assures them – and us – that we “will not be tempted” with more than we can handle, and that God always “will with the temptation also make a way to escape,” that we may be able to bear it. This is encouraging information and can be a source of strength for us. God really does love us and wants to help us, and does not want us to “go away” as did the Prodigal Son. We get a feeling of that as we read the Old Testament lesson this morning, which is from a book of the Apocrypha – “The Wisdom of Solomon.” We find some encouragement as we read, “For thou lovest all the things that are, and abhorrest nothing which thou hast made: for never wouldest thou have made any thing, if thou hadst hated it” (11:24) – and “thou sparest all: for they are thine, O Lord, thou lover of souls.” (11:26) God loves us; will give us every chance to reach the Kingdom of Heaven; but as is very clear in the example, we have to do our part, with His help, and resist the temptations of this world. The people in Corinth had trouble with that! The Prodigal Son did, also!
The real message, of course, is that like the father in the story, our Lord also, is ever willing to receive a lost soul – to receive us – to welcome us back home! He is the Father, always eager to forgive – to gather His prodigal children back into His warm embrace. We prayed for that in our opening hymn – “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways!” (435)
Again, from the Wisdom of Solomon: “But thou hast mercy upon all; for thou canst do all things, and winkest at the sins of men, because they should amend” (11:23) – in other words, He will forgive our trespasses, if we repent! We “Prodigal Sons” will be forgiven and the door to heaven will be opened to us – if we do our part.
Processional – 435, 2nd tune – “Dear Lord and Father of mankind”
Gradual– 344 – “O love, how deep, how broad, how high”
Offertory – 339 – “O Lamb of God, still keep me”
Communion – 195 – “Father, we thank thee who hast planted”
Recessional – 345, 1st tune – “The King of love my shepherd is”
August 6, 2017 Transfiguration of Christ
Collect: p. 247
O.T. Lesson Exodus 34:29-35
Epistle: 2 Peter 1:13-18
Gospel: St. Luke 9:28-36
A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.
“We… were eyewitnesses of his majesty” (II Peter1:16)
Today, we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord – one of those feast days that does not occur on Sunday very often. That’s too bad, because the propers we hear today are very rich and interesting. We have a pretty complete account of the event in the gospel reading this morning – and Peter has some comments on it in his epistle. Occasionally, the authorship of the Second Epistle of Peter is called into question, but we will assume that the selection we read today is an accurate, eyewitness account of this important turning point in our Lord’s ministry.
The important point is that whoever wrote it, claims to have been on the scene when the Transfiguration took place. The writers of all three of the synoptic gospels included the story – we hear Luke’s version today – and it always indicates that Peter, James and John were the three chosen by Jesus to accompany Him up the unnamed mountain – probably Mount Hebron – to witness this event. It seems logical that each of those three would have mentioned an important event such as this one in his writings, as Peter did in the Second Epistle.
It is exciting to think that we are reading a description from one who saw this extraordinary event. He says, “we were eyewitnesses of his majesty,” (II Peter1:16) and heard the voice from heaven – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (II Peter1:17)
We might wonder why the Transfiguration occurred. Why did Jesus feel it was necessary to put on such a display for these three followers, and why for just these three? Let’s think for a few moments about some of the interesting points surrounding the Transfiguration.
In order to understand when and why this event happened, it might help to review the chronology of Jesus’ ministry. Remember that John had baptized Jesus in the Jordan River, probably in 27 AD, at which time Jesus received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is noteworthy that on this occasion, God’s voice was heard: one of the rare occasions when that is found in the entire New Testament! He says, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22) The Transfiguration took place about two years later – probably in the summer or early fall of 29 AD.
Following His baptism, and the forty days of temptation, Jesus began His Galilean ministry, a traveling ministry of preaching and healing. His message was the Good News of the Kingdom of God. To help with His work, He appointed His first disciples – Peter, James, and John being among them.
Jesus was accepted well at first. He cast out spirits, healed people with all varieties of illnesses, and preached with an air of authority that astounded many listeners. They wondered where this carpenter’s son had received His knowledge. But, as time passed, He upset the Jewish leaders – scribes and Pharisees, particularly – as He began to pronounce forgiveness of sins. Only God was supposed to do that! And, He healed on the Sabbath, further upsetting the Pharisees and priests. Even some of those who thought He might be some sort of Messiah were disappointed. The Savior they were looking for, promised in the Old Testament, was expected to be a nationalistic warrior, a sort of “king,” who would lead them to defeat of the Romans. Instead, here was Jesus, preaching, healing, and calling for men to repent of their sins and seek forgiveness – forgiveness which He, Himself, was offering! He taught that the Kingdom of God was already here, and working through Him!
Even the twelve Apostles, appointed by this time, were not certain who He was. Shortly before the Transfiguration, Peter, in response to Jesus’ question of His identity, answered that he knew Jesus was “The Christ of God.” But, he had no concept of the Passion and the extraordinary events that were to come. The Transfiguration probably began his realization, and that of the other Apostles, of just what was in store, and that, in the end, the Kingdom of God would be victorious.
With all of these “ups” and “downs” – a handful of believers; a great number of doubters; and a jealous, upset hierarchy of Pharisees, priests, and civil rulers – perhaps it seemed a proper time to give the Apostles a preview of things to come. Jesus was beginning to tell His friends of His upcoming fate – that He must suffer many things, be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised on the third day.
We really do not know how the Apostles reacted to Jesus’ prediction of His fate. By this time, He was almost a fugitive from the church leaders and civil authorities. Only His small band of disciples were in support, and perhaps to give them a boost in morale, and to cement their faithfulness, Jesus took His three oldest, most dedicated friends up into the mountain to witness an extraordinary event – the Transfiguration. The time was about six or eight months before the Crucifixion.
The experience they had was almost beyond comprehension, and indeed, Jesus warned them to tell no one about it. However, it appears that when they came down from the mountain the next day, Jesus’ appearance was so altered, that people knew something momentous had occurred. “People were amazed,” we read further on in the story.
Can we imagine the feelings going through Peter, James, and John as they saw the change in Jesus? His skin and clothing became snow-white and glistening, and then appeared the two figures whom they knew to be Moses and Elijah. It is interesting that they recognized these two men whom they had never seen. And, they realized also that Jesus was talking about His own death with these men. Then, the figures disappeared. To Peter, James, and John, the whole experience was a confirmation of their belief, that Jesus was the Messiah!
The next event in this experience is also very interesting. Peter felt very good, very much elated about this revelation. He wanted to prolong the exhilaration that he was feeling, and said, “Master, it is good for us to be here,” (Luke 9:33) and asked if it would be appropriate to make three booths or tabernacles: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Perhaps he thought this would cause them to reappear.
As Peter asked about this, they were suddenly engulfed in a dense cloud, which was very frightening to them. And then, came the voice of God, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (II Peter1:17)This is another of the rare occasions when God’s voice is heard in the New Testament.
For Peter, James, and John, this experience was a glimpse of Jesus’ glory, a glimpse into the future, which provided encouragement and assurance that Christian hopes would be fulfilled. It was a revelation, a “pulling away” of the veil, allowing them to see clearly, if even for a brief time, that their beliefs were valid.
For Jesus also, this was a “shift in gears” or a pivotal point, before He turned toward Calvary and headed for the suffering and death that He had outlined to the disciples. It was in the Transfiguration that He fully accepted the task of carrying out the promise of the Law and the Prophets for the redemption of Mankind. This was the significance of Moses and Elijah appearing with Him: Moses representing the Law, and Elijah – the prophets!
In this reading, we find some interesting parallels with Old Testament events. Moses went up into a mountain, Mount Sinai, for a specific purpose: to receive the Ten Commandments. There was a cloud covering the mountain. Moses’ appearance changed, as he too, “glistened.” God’s voice was heard. Now, in today’s Gospel, we have all of these similarities, and Moses is involved again! So often, we find these interesting parallels in the Old and New Testaments!
Before the Transfiguration, much of Christ’s glory was hidden; was veiled, and not apparent to the Apostles. The shining light they experienced on this day, brought the real meaning of His Messiahship out into the open, and was helpful to His followers throughout the final months of Jesus’ life on earth. It would be after the Resurrection before they would fully understand the importance of the events that they witnessed this day on the mountain. But it would be correct to say that the three, who were witnesses, were also transfigured: their mind processes were altered as they began to grasp the real magnitude of our Lord’s glory.
As our Old Testament reading, this morning, we heard the account of Moses coming down from Mount Sinai bringing with him two tablets of stone inscribed with the Word of God, which would affect mankind forever. When Jesus came down from His mountain experience, He brought with Him three men, Peter, James, and John, whose very souls had been inscribed with the Word of God, and who would play important roles, especially in the months leading up to the Crucifixion, and then for all time, thereafter.
As we read the Transfiguration story, we should also feel somewhat transformed, closer, more in touch with God, more understanding of His relationships with Jesus, more able to understand Jesus’ relationship with the Apostles—and with us! Amen
Processional – 119 – Tune 158, 2nd – “O Wondrous type! O vision fair!”
Gradual – 571 – tune 542 – “Not always on the mount may we”
Offertory – 498 – “Where cross the crowded ways of life”
Communion – 209, 2nd tune – “O saving Victim, opening wide”
Recessional – 396 – “The Church’s one foundation”
July 30, 2017 7th Sunday after Trinity
O.T. Hosea 14
Epistle: Romans 6:19-23
Gospel: St. Mark 8:1-9
“The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” (Hosea 14:9)
We have in the propers this morning, a very interesting and rich epistle, and a gospel that narrates the “Feeding of the Four Thousand” – both are “naturals” as sermon texts and have been used many times.
However, we do not use a Minor Prophet’s works as a text for a sermon very often, and I thought that today I would do so. The works of these writers are appointed as Old Testament readings on only about eight Sundays of the year. The Minor Prophet Hosea (Hō-zē’-a) is the writer of our Old Testament reading this morning. We speak of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and (usually) Daniel as the “Major Prophets,” not because their prophecies were more important than those of the twelve so-called “Minor Prophets,” but because their writings are more prolific – it is not quality – but quantity of writing that places them in this category. Hosea is one of these Minor Prophets – his book is one of the longest of those, but even so, only fourteen short chapters, the last of which, we heard in its entirety today.
As a “refresher,” let’s quickly review the territorial situation at the time of the prophets – roughly 840 BC to 432 BC – a span of approximately 400 years, with Hosea being one of the earliest of these writers. This period in history is a little confusing – no, it is quite confusing! In about 931 BC, Israel had divided into the Northern Kingdom, which continued to be known as Israel – and the Southern Kingdom, which became known as Judah. Both countries underwent a series of ups and downs, as they followed good, God-fearing kings for a while, and then went over into paganism, corruption, and moral depravity as other kings came into power – ups and downs!
The Southern Kingdom, Judah, and the Northern Kingdom, Israel, together were more or less “squeezed” by the powerful Assyrians to their north and the Egyptians to their south. Note that originally, when Israel was one unified kingdom under King Solomon, it was rich and strong and able to resist any threats from the north and south. However, it was overtaxed, and its people overburdened with forced labor. They were not very happy. When Solomon’s son, Rehoboam (Rē-ho-bō’-am), took over after the death of his father, and refused to lighten their burdens, the ten northern tribes rebelled, splitting off and forming the separate Northern Kingdom, with Jeroboam I (Jer-o-bō’-am) as their king. When this occurred in around 931 BC, Rehoboam retained only the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin as the Southern Kingdom. From that time on, not being as unified, the area was less able to resist incursions, and also more likely to slip back into pagan ways.
The area was always in a terrible state of unrest as it is, even now. It is still very confusing when one tries to “sort it out.” For instance, Syria, Moab, Ammon and Assyria were frequent invaders. (We should note that Syria and Assyria referred to two different areas.) Deals were made between Judah and Assyria, which led to the defeat of Syria and Israel, but in return for this help, Judah had to become a subject kingdom of Assyria (743). Failure of Israel to pay Assyria a tribute led to the capture of Samaria – the capital of the Northern Kingdom – (721/722), along with destruction of the entire Northern Kingdom, and exile of the Israelites. (Exiling of those in a defeated country was common back then and a popular method for countries to obtain laborers.)
So this was the situation during the time of Hosea’s writing. You do not need to straighten it out in your mind – that probably is impossible. Just know that it was a very confusing period, with the two kingdoms, corruption, moral depravity – and prophets trying to influence the people, preaching repentance, changing of ways, and predicting terrible retaliation by God. Hosea was one of those prophets, and in his writings, he even predicted the invasion by the Assyrians – they were to be God’s tool for punishment! Hosea’s prophecies took place in the period from approximately 750 to 710 BC, and were directed to the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, which was also called Ephraim, from the name of its largest tribe. (This dual-name business adds further to the confusion for us, today!) At roughly the same time as Hosea’s prophecies to the North, Isaiah was delivering his to the Southern Kingdom, Judah. The two were contemporaries.
Hosea’s story is a strange and sad one. At the time he began to prophesy, Israel was enjoying a temporary period of economic prosperity under King Jeroboam II (Jer-o-bō’-am) – actually, one of the “good” kings. Hosea opens his book with the direction given to him by God – “Go take unto thee a wife of whoredom.” (Hosea 1:2) He is told to marry a woman named Gomer, a woman obviously of very loose morals. He is told to do this because, “The land hath committed great whoredom, departing from the Lord.” (Hosea 1:2) The purpose of this marriage to a harlot was to prepare Hosea for his writing. Throughout his book, Hosea sometimes speaks for God; sometimes he writes as though he is speaking for himself to his children, or to Gomer, or even to the Israelites. For this reason, reading Hosea also can be confusing.
Hosea and Gomer had three children, whose names were specifically chosen and ordered by God, and had meanings related to the fate of Israel. The oldest, a son, was named Jezreel, which means “God scatters,” or “God sows.” This predicts what will happen to the rulers of Israel. A daughter was born next, and named “Lo-Ruhamah,” which means “no mercy.” The third child was a son and named “Lo-Ammi” – meaning “not my people” – God’s declaration of His rejecting Israel. Almost immediately after bearing the third child, Gomer fell back into her life of loose morals, continually chasing men and deserting her family. The parallel is obvious – Israel is permeated with corruption, committing all sorts of immoral acts, worshipping idols, and showing no signs of having a conscience. Gomer is doing the same!
Throughout the book, the parallel between Gomer and Israel continues. God loves Israel, although he despises her “spiritual adultery” and corruption. Hosea loves Gomer, although he hates her infidelity. In chapter three, Hosea forgives her and takes her back. Next come predictions of dire consequences for Israel, and then we read of God’s love for the country and in return, its failure to obey. The book closes with God acknowledging that Israel always will be somewhat sinful, but in the final chapter that we read today, He promises to restore Israel – “I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely: For my anger is turned away from them” (him). God’s love came through! (Hosea 14:4)
The name, “Hosea” means “salvation” – and interestingly, it comes from the same Hebrew root as “Jesus” and “Joshua.” Salvation is the goal we all seek, and as the book unfolds, Hosea sends an encouraging message about salvation. Using his own life to help emphasize his prophecy, Hosea puts forth three points. First, he says that God abhors the sins of His people – but not the people themselves. Second, there will be a Judgment Day – and we should be prepared for it – change our behavior and ourselves where necessary. And third, God is steadfast in His love for us. Because of that love, salvation awaits us.
Let’s think of the Hosea story as it relates to the collect this morning. The collect reads, “Graft in our hearts the love of thy Name, increase in us thy true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of thy great mercy keep us in the same.” This is a prayer for the very things that will prepare us for the Day of Judgment and open the doors of salvation to us. If the people of Hosea’s time in Israel had followed those guidelines, there would have been no need for his dire prophecy – prophecy that came to pass. Then as we think about Hosea’s message, we realize it is one of love – God’s love. Just as Hosea forgave and took back Gomer, so God promises to forgive us and take us into the heavenly kingdom.
A week or so ago – on the twenty-second of this month, we recognized the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, and perhaps we might find some parallels with her story and that of the Hosea situation. Mary Magdalene usually is thought to have been a woman of loose morals in her earlier life – but repented, was forgiven, and became a valuable follower of Christ – even to the point of being present at the Crucifixion and one of the first witnesses of the Resurrection. It was she who arrived at the tomb on that first Easter – and found it empty. Later, she accompanied Mary and John to Ephesus, and spent the rest of her life in meditation and spreading the gospel. Unlike Gomer, her “changing of ways” seems to have been permanent! She had received the “true religion,” through the love of Christ.
The last line of our Hosea reading sums up the message for today: “Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? Prudent, and he shall know them?” (Hosea 14:9)This should be translated, as it is in the New English Bible – that He who is wise and prudent will understand this prophecy – “for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein.” The people of Israel did not heed the prophecy of Hosea, and they were punished by exile. We must change our ways – follow the “true religion” for which we pray in the collect.
Processional – 542 – “Jesus shall reign, where’er the sun”
Gradual – 253 – “Spread, O spread, thou mighty word”
Offertory – 477 – “God himself is with us”
Communion – 189 – “And now, O Father, mindful of the love”
Recessional – 267 – “Holy Father, great Creator”
July 23, 2017 6th Sunday after Trinity
O.T. Isaiah 57:13b-19
Epistle: Romans 6:3-11
Gospel: St. Matthew 5:20-26
“The good things that pass man’s understanding” (collect)
We find in today’s collect, two references to the good things that await us. First, we acknowledge that God has prepared for us “such good things as pass man’s understanding.” This phrase – “Pass our understanding” – means they are even better than we can imagine! Then, we pray that He may pour into our hearts such love of Him, that we may obtain His promises, which we know will “exceed all that we can desire.” Yes, we are certain that our future holds better for us than that for which we could possibly wish!
Reading this collect brings some questions come to mind:
- Why do we deserve this wonderful future?
- What must we do to ensure our receiving it?
- Can we lose it?
- How is this related to our Church experience here at St. Michael’s?
Paul, in this morning’s epistle reading from Romans, sums up what might be thought of as the Easter experience. When the “First Adam” sinned and fell from grace, we fell with him. Now, Christ – the “Second Adam” – has picked us up. First we died with Him – Paul says we were “buried with Him.” Our “old man,” as he calls it, was crucified with Him, destroying our sin. We sang of this in the gradual hymn (404) a few moments ago: “Before the cross…Let every sin be crucified.” Then, Jesus picks us up, raises us with Him at His Resurrection, and creates the “new man” within us. We now walk in a “newness of life.” This is the Easter experience! This is what we all undergo in the baptismal rite, and which we renew at Easter time! This is what makes us eligible for those good things that pass our understanding! Through His Blood, Christ has opened to us the gates of heaven.
The answer to our first question, “Why do we deserve this wonderful future” is that we don’t “deserve” this future that God has prepared for us. We cannot earn it. Nothing we do can make us worthy of receiving it. This future is a gift! It is given to us because God loves us, and wants us to achieve eternal life with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom!
Now, even though those gates are opened to us, and God has prepared for us, “things so good, that they are beyond our understanding,” it is not automatically assured that we will receive them. To ensure our receiving these good things, we have to keep up our end of the bargain. This is what we mean in the collect, when we pray that God “will pour into our hearts, such love of Him, that we may obtain those promises.” He will strengthen us and make it possible. And to accomplish this, we need to follow the advice our Lord gives us, as we heard in Matthew’s gospel this morning. Among other things, our righteousness must “exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
This answers our second question, as to what we must do, and doing just that really is not too difficult! However, as we state in the General Confession, we must live a “godly, righteous, and sober life,” here on earth. Now, Jesus did not think much of the ways in which the scribes and Pharisees conducted themselves. He did not feel they were very righteous. Exceeding their behavior may not be too difficult. They were too interested merely in following the Mosaic Law, with all of the prescribed penalties for every outward infraction, strictly applied and scaled on the basis of seriousness of each transgression. Jesus was much more concerned with inner thoughts, motives, moral attitudes, and what was coming from the heart. Those are the traits on which we must concentrate!
Can we lose this wonderful future that God has prepared for us? In answer to that third question, certainly we can! Jesus tells His disciples in the Gospel this morning, that one who murders is in danger of judgment – not likely to receive the final reward. The scary part then follows: anger, hatred, malice and an unforgiving nature, also are deadly sins – Jesus equates them with murder! These also place one in danger of judgment! To avoid losing our heavenly goal, we must reconcile with any neighbors we might have harmed – and with God!
Now, this is where St. Michael’s comes into play, and our fourth question is answered, because God has given us the method to achieve this reconciliation with Him. Our church experience here at St. Michael’s can play a huge part in attaining our final goal. Anglicans know that regular attendance, regular receiving of Holy Communion, and participation in the other sacraments, when needed, are vitally necessary for one to have his heart and soul opened to receive that love toward God, which enables us to obtain His promises! We cannot do it on our own. The Church is the body of all faithful people – the Body of Christ! And, worship is a corporate experience. One must be a member of the Body of Christ – the Church – through baptism, in order to receive the final reward! Further, just one person alone – even a priest – may not observe Holy Communion! There must be at least one other person present, for it to be valid.
In the Prayer Book (p.293), we read that the Body and Blood are “spiritually taken and received by the faithful in the Lord’s Supper.” We believe that through receiving the sacred elements of the Eucharist, we are receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord, “mysteriously incorporated into the Bread and Wine by the Holy Ghost, at Consecration.” This is the “Real Presence of Christ” in our Sacrament – one of the major differences between our beliefs and those of most of the Protestant denominations.
In his book, “The Catholic Religion,” (p. 160) Fr. Vernon Staley has a wonderful commentary on this Spiritual Presence in the Body and Blood. He says: “The term Real Presence signifies (d) the presence of a reality. Our Lord’s presence in the Eucharist is a spiritual presence. By a spiritual presence we are not to understand that which is unreal, or figurative; but a presence which is not merely natural or material. A spiritual presence is a presence of a supernatural order. Our Lord is present in the blessed Sacrament in a manner which is beyond our understanding. The Real Presence is a Holy Mystery.” Fr. Staley’s description reminds us that many of the elements of our faith are unexplainable in human terms! We do not have to understand the “how’s” and “why’s” of everything – we are not even expected to comprehend every detail about Holy Mysteries. That is why they are called “mysteries”!
To Anglicans, Holy Communion is not just a memorial of Christ’s actions on Maundy Thursday. We believe that in receiving this Sacrament and the Absolution that is part of the service, our souls and bodies are refreshed and strengthened, and we are forgiven for our sins. No, not just a “memorial” – something wonderful happens to us. We are changed – brought more “in touch” with God. St. Michael’s, through its very devout congregation, and its pure doctrine, liturgy, and Holy Orders, provides us with the means to be reconciled with God. Do not we all feel a sense of closeness to God when we are here – and participating in our services?
The central point of our service and our building is the altar, of course. This altar is our gate to the Heavenly Kingdom, for on this altar is prepared our sacrifice of bread and wine that actually becomes the Body and Blood of Christ. Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox all hold the altar in a very high position in their church experiences. We treat it with great respect, reverence it as we pass before it, and make it the central focus of our décor. Again, from “The Catholic Religion,” we read, “From the earliest of times the Altar has been regarded as the Throne of Christ, because He there vouchsafes (grants or furnishes) his sacramental presence in the Holy Eucharist.”
The other key part of the service here at St. Michael’s is our liturgy. It is important to know a little bit of the history and that until about the 1500’s, the services of the Church were scattered into different volumes, with various “service books” floating around in about four different categories. They were “Daily Offices,” “Holy Communion,” “Episcopal offices – those services performed by bishops and on special occasions,” and “The Ordinal” – ordination services. Things were not so standardized in those days – they varied from one place to another. Feeling a need to pull things together, the Church, and primarily Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, wrote the first Book of Common Prayer, which was adopted in 1549. Since that time there have been various versions – in England with the 1662 and 1928 being some of the major revisions, and in America, the 1789, 1892, and 1928. The latest in this country is the 1979 so-called “revision,” but since it is an entirely new book, not a revision, it really should not be called by the same name. It is not “The Book of Common Prayer,” with which Anglicans are familiar. Many prayer book authorities feel it should be called a “Book of Alternative Services,” as they do in England. All of the other books mentioned are quite similar, and based on the liturgy as written in the first – the 1549 – English Book of Common Prayer, and which came from the original liturgy as handed down from the days of the undivided Church. We use the 1928 American version, and the American Altar Missal that is based on it. It is scripturally sound, has not been modified to keep up with modern trends and moral changes. We shun the modern “interpretations,” such as the 1979 book, which we feel have departed severely from the ancient, traditional liturgy. We feel that our insistence on using this liturgy helps protect the validity of our sacraments and our Holy Orders.
As we worship our Lord, using the ancient, traditional liturgy and focusing our attention on His sacrifice for us here at His throne, let us unite closer into this congregation of His flock. We may be assured that “He has prepared for us good things that will pass our understanding,” and “exceed all that we can desire!” Let us do our part, and achieve them!
Processional – 271 – “Come thou almighty King!”
Gradual – 404 – “My God, accept my heart this day”
Offertory – 575 – “Lord, who didst send, by two and two before thee”
Communion – 208, 1st – “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face”
Recessional – 299 – “Sing praise to God, who spoke through man”
July 16, 2017 5th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 195
O.T. Proverbs 15:1-10, 26
Psalm 34: BCP pp. 380-381
Epistle: I Peter 3:8-15
Gospel: St. Luke 5:1-11
“…eschew evil and do good; seek peace and ensue it.” (I Peter 3:8)
There is a phrase found in the epistle reading appointed for today, and repeated in Psalm Thirty-four (34:14), which is one of those appointed this morning, and because of that repetition, we read the Psalm this morning – something we do only occasionally. That phrase is, “eschew evil, and do good; seek peace and ensue it,” and it sets the tone for this Fifth Sunday after Trinity. The theme seems to be a list of instructions for living a good, holy life, and finding favor with God – and seeking peace as we go about our lives. The theme is picked up in the collect, and further expanded to a great degree in the Old Testament reading from Proverbs, as we read “a soft answer turneth away wrath” (15:1) – “seeking peace.” This is one of those Sundays on which all of the readings fit together.
The Psalm asks the question, “What man is he that lusteth to live?” (34:12) or, as written in the New English Bible, “Which of you desires a long life to enjoy all good things?” Then, for those who wish to live, it gives the answer as to how this may be accomplished, part of which is that line – “Eschew evil and do good; seek peace and ensue it.” (34:14) To “ensue it,” in this case means to “pursue it.” The same phrase appears in the epistle.
Now, we may wonder why the Psalm asks the question, “Who wants to live,” in the first place. Doesn’t everyone want to live? Do we really have a choice in this matter? Well, in Deuteronomy (30:19), God clearly gives us the choice. He urges that we choose life in order that both we and our descendants may live; that we may love Him, and cling to Him all our days, for “He is our life and the length of our days…” Some do not choose life, but for those who do, instructions are given in all of these readings this morning.
First, in considering this “choosing of life,” one must realize that we are speaking of more than just a physical existence. “Man does not live by bread alone!” We are talking of a much deeper “life” – a close relationship of our souls with God. This involves our every thought, every action – the type of life we live. A great portion of that, according to the Psalm today, involves our tongues – how we speak and what we say. The advice we are given is to “keep our tongues from evil, and our lips, that they speak no guile.” (34:13) In other words, choosing life over death means we have to be constantly on guard as to the actions of our mouths. And one way of helping to do that is to follow the opening words of this Thirty-fourth Psalm – to “always give thanks to the Lord and to let his praise ever be in our mouths!” (34:1) If we are singing God’s praises, we cannot be getting into trouble with our lips. Then, we are reminded that “The eyes of the Lord are over the righteous, his ears are open unto their prayers.” (34:15)
Our Old Testament lesson this morning is from Proverbs, a book that we do not often read in our regular services. The Book of Proverbs is a long, very thorough list of guidelines, or maxims for everyday living. Most of the Proverbs were written, or at least assembled, by Solomon, so it is no wonder that the most frequently-used one-word description of this book is “Wisdom,” and its purpose is to teach us to live a godly life in a skillful manner. Listen to some of the advice he gives us this morning – several “pearls of wisdom”!
This chapter opens with, “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” (15:1)
Others “pearls” are:
“A fool despises his father’s instruction,” (15:5)
“A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance,” (15:13)
“The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the Lord, (15:9)
“The lips of the wise disperse knowledge: but the heart of the foolish doeth not so,” (15:7)
And another, similar to a line in the psalm:
“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.” (15:3)
This last one is a strong reminder that God is always watching us, and we note that He is making a distinction between the evil and the good. Not everyone is leading a proper holy life, “eschewing evil,” and He is aware of those who are not.
These guidelines may be described by a term used in the collect that I have always liked and found useful – “Godly quietness.” (Indeed, I have preached entire sermons on it in past years.) There is a gentle or soft quality in all of those proverbs just listed, and they seem to describe the way we in the Church are supposed to be joyfully serving our Lord – in “Godly quietness!”
The main message for today, then, is for us to live and serve in “Godly quietness.” Peter’s epistle emphasizes that we are to be of one mind, to have compassion for one another, to love one another as brothers, to be courteous, not to repay evil for evil – or “Railing for railing.” (I Peter 3:9) Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all followed that one? There would never be an escalation of a disagreement into a full-blown argument! That would be a good start in “seeking peace and ensuing it!”
The gradual hymn (437), which we sang just a few moments ago, tells a little story about the author of our epistle and subject of our gospel this morning, and about this “peace” that Peter wanted us to have – “the marvelous peace of God.” He, his brother Andrew, and his friends were “happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down.” Their lives were probably quite pleasant and uncomplicated. We read about Jesus’ meeting them as they were fishing in the Galilean Sea and that their nets were empty until Jesus told them to try again, and directed them as to where to cast the nets. They pulled them in, and found them bursting with the catch. Notice Peter’s immediate reaction – he was astounded, seemed to recognize that Jesus was the Lord, and fell to his knees, crying that he was a sinner and not worthy to be in the presence of the Lord! Supposedly, this was the first recognition by anyone, that Jesus was the Messiah! Jesus’ famous response – “Fear not; from henceforth thou shall catch men.” (St. Luke 5:10)
After Jesus arrived and recruited them, the lives of these fishermen were turned upside down and became full of hardships, but their hearts were so full of the Peace of God that, like the nets, they also nearly burst. Unfortunately, Peter and his colleagues found their physical lives much more difficult from this point on, but I’m certain their prayers for “the marvelous peace of God” were answered – that they achieved “Godly quietness!”
What are some of the things we may do to help us receive “this marvelous peace of God?” Do we all feel it from time-to-time? Are you aware of what you are doing, how you are acting, or where you are when you become aware of it? I am certain that many of you have felt it right here in this church, as I have – every time I come here, but especially when I am here all alone and it is very quiet. We notice it in the quiet period before each service, and that is why we observe that “rule” about not talking before the service when others are praying, meditating, or just deep in thought. We try to keep the church very quiet at that time. And that is why we urge that people arrive early enough – perhaps ten or fifteen minutes before the service – to benefit from that period of “Godly quietness.” It should be an important part of your church-attending experience.
Other times we may feel the magic of “Godly quietness” might be at a concert, or visiting an art museum, or watching a sleeping child, or communing with nature on a quiet hike, or even fishing or pursuing other hobbies. I have found that one can actually perceive the feeling of “Godly quietness” in a situation that is not particularly “quiet.” As mentioned in the past, I believe I have experienced it in airplanes, when I used to fly, and was all by myself on a particularly beautiful day, or very clear, quiet night, or at sunrise – those special times for those who fly! I have even noticed it when in the Air Force many years ago and witnessed sunrises from the air. Often, we would take off around midnight , so – many times I would be able to view the sunrise – usually standing in a gunner’s blister – just enjoying the beauty – and not even aware of the considerable noise. We actually “tune out” the noise of the engines! It is a sense of nearness to God, that we feel when doing something very special for us, as individuals, and realizing that it is all possible because of the grace of God. In these situations, we feel the very presence of God with us! That, too, is “Godly quietness!” That is probably the kind of “Godly quietness” felt by Peter and the other apostles, as they followed the Lord into some “not very quiet” situations.
All of these activities, as we experience the feeling of “Godly quietness,” are examples of our “eschewing evil, seeking peace, pursuing and obtaining it!” (I Peter 3:8) I pray that we all may continue to have these experiences often!
Processional – 157, 2nd tune – “Father, we praise thee, now the night is over”
Gradual – 437 – “They cast their nets in Galilee”
Offertory – 402– “O Word of God incarnate”
Communion – 201 – “Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands”
Recessional – 363 – “Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy”
July 9, 2017 4th Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 194
O. T. Lamentations 3:22-33
Epistle: Romans 8:18-23
Gospel: St. Luke 6:36-42
“The sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18)
One of the truly encouraging lines we run across in scripture is this line from our epistle this morning – “The sufferings of this world are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18) Because it is such an encouraging passage, this lesson is one of the options for the Burial Office in the Book of Common Prayer. I particularly like the translation in the New English Bible: “I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the splendor, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us.” “Glory” – “Splendor” – either one sounds good to us! None of the hardships we endure here on earth can compare with the heavenly bliss that awaits Christ’s followers. The deepest depths we experience here will not come close to the ecstatic “highs” we will enjoy in heaven! We might think of this as a graphic rendition, with some positive and negative events shown above and below the baseline. The deepest negative is not even close in magnitude to the positive peak that represents the heavenly experience. It is off the page! This heavenly bliss is the ultimate example of our Lord’s gift of mercy to us. It is that “Wideness of God’s mercy,” of which we will sing in a few moments (in the offertory hymn). And, “mercy” is the theme of the propers for this Fourth Sunday after Trinity.
The collect refers to “mercy,” as we pray that God “may increase and multiply upon us His mercy,” and that “we may pass through things temporal (things on earth) and lose not the things eternal.”
The Old Testament lesson from Lamentations states that “it is through the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not” (Lam. 3:22) – The Lord’s mercies – and we read that “They are new every morning!” (Lam. 3:23) Every day, He heaps more mercies on us!
The gospel repeats the same theme – “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (St. Luke 6:36)
So, with “mercy” as the subject of all of today’s writings, it seems to be the obvious theme for today.
How do we define “mercy”? One definition is “a compassion shown to an offender, or to one who is subject to one’s power.” In Psalms (108:3) we read about God’s mercy, “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” We are the offenders, and certainly subject to His power, and yet are recipients of His great mercy. We are likewise expected to show our mercies to those who offend us.
It gets a little “tricky” here, as we read on in the gospel: “Judge not, and ye shall not be judged.” Is this instructing us to overlook all of the wrongs done by our fellow man? Certainly not! “Judge not” refers to a judgment that is unfavorable and condemnatory. We may not condemn – only God may do that! But this does not mean that a Christian should never render judgment of any kind, or under any circumstances. The New Testament Scriptures are filled with exhortations to “mark those who cause divisions among you,” “receive not” those who deny Christ, “exhort,” “rebuke,” etc. Certainly we must judge ourselves, and also judge others, who have failed in their spiritual responsibility. This is a necessity of church discipline, as Paul tells us in the fifth chapter of his First Epistle to the Corinthians (I Cor. 5:9). He warns, don’t “company with fornicators” (KJV) or “have nothing to do with loose livers” (NEB). The point being made here is that we are not to judge the inner motives of another. But when we see injustice, evil, heresy, or immoral activity, we are not expected to overlook it – God does not do that, and we do not have to, either. We are allowed and expected to use our God-given powers of discernment. How else can we avoid “loose livers” and fornicators?
What “being merciful” does entail is having compassion on our fellow sinners – those caught in the bonds of sin. We should realize that all of us are sinners and not use ourselves as a yardstick by which to measure others. We must refuse to condemn those who sin, and forgive them as we pray that God may “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
This line from the Lord’s Prayer is important as we look at this “mercy” theme. A truly spiritual person never loses touch with the realization that he, himself, is in need of mercy. We, being the sinners we are, know that we are constantly in need of forgiveness from God and our fellow man. We cannot condemn others, because we know that one day, we will be standing before Him and we pray that through God’s grace, we will not be found unworthy, and condemned.
Saint Caesarius (Se-SAR′-e-us) served as Bishop of Arles for about forty years beginning in the year 503. He was quite renowned for his preaching, and one of his most famous sermons was written on “mercy.” He begins with the line from the Beatitudes – “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He then discusses how all of us desire it, but not all live in such a way as to deserve it. Few of us are willing to grant mercy as freely or as often as we should. “Mercy abides in heaven,” he says, “but it is reached by the exercise of it on earth.” He discusses how there are two kinds of mercy – one on earth, which is the human one – the kind we dispense here in this world, and one in heaven, which is the divine forgiveness that we all seek. It abides in heaven, but for us to receive it we must dispense mercy here on earth.
His discussion of the earthly form is interesting, in that he points out that in this world, “God is cold and hungry in the person of the poor.” We read in Matthew’s gospel (25:40), “As long as you did it for one of the least of my brethren, you did it for me.” God wants to give to us from heaven, but He also wishes to receive from us on earth! Christ is in need and hungry right now, here on earth in the person of the poor! He is cold; He needs help!
Caesarius tells us that God could have made all men wealthy, and able to take care of themselves, but that He put the poor on earth for a reason. And, that reason is compassion for us: to assist us, through the misery of the poor. Only through having the less fortunate, are we able to give alms, show mercy for others, be forgiving – and therefore have a means to redeem ourselves. This is an interesting angle. He explains further: “You give the poor a coin, and receive a kingdom from Christ. You bestow a mouthful and are given eternal life. You offer clothes and Christ grants you forgiveness of your sins.” He tells us “we should not despise the poor,” but be glad we have them and “freely lavish ourselves upon them.” They are providing us with that needed opportunity to be merciful.
There are two kinds of alms also, according to Caesarius: “One good, but the other better.” Giving some food or money is the first – it is good, and the proper thing to do; forgiving someone who has wronged us is the second – it is even better. He urges that we fulfill both types, in order that we may be able to obtain eternal forgiveness and the true mercy of Christ.
One of the keys to being forgiving with our fellow man is to first look at ourselves, and the gospel for today certainly addresses that aspect. We are told to look at ourselves carefully and get the beam out of our own eye before we attempt to get the mote out of our brother’s eye. This “beam” sounds like a very large object, while “mote” refers to a speck. We may have some big discrepancies in our own make-up that need to be addressed before we address some small infraction by our neighbor.
So, in summary, we all desire mercy. We expect it from God. We may think for some reason that we actually deserve it. But it is not something we earn. It is ours through the grace of God – but we may be certain that God does look at the manner in which we treat our fellow man and how eager we are to be merciful in dealing with our neighbors.
Processional – 301 – “Immortal, invisible, God only wise”
Gradual – 418 – “Blest are the pure in heart”
Offertory – 304 – “There’s wideness in God’s mercy”
Communion – 195 – “Father, we thank thee who hast planted”
Recessional – 144 – “Lord God, we worship thee!”
July 2, 2017 3rd Sunday after Trinity and Independence Day Weekend
Collect: p. 192
O. T. Jeremiah 31:1-14
Epistle: I Peter 5:5-11
Gospel: St. Luke 15:1-10
A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.
I am not preaching about Independence Day this morning, but this is the Sunday closest to that day, and since we are a very patriotic congregation, I want to commemorate that important occasion. Therefore, before the sermon, I will read the collect for Independence Day and offer a few comments on it. You will find this collect on page 263 of the BCP:
O Eternal God, through whose mighty power our fathers won their liberties of old; Grant, we beseech thee, that we and all the people of this land may have grace
to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is the second line of this collect, that always seems so appropriate to me, and that I like to emphasize. We pray that we may have the grace to maintain these liberties in righteousness and peace. Are we doing all that we can to maintain these freedoms? I am afraid that, today, many people do not even realize that some of these are being lost! Freedoms such as we have, can be lost – and will be lost – unless citizens are constantly on guard and willing to fight in order to preserve them! That is something all citizens may do. This does not necessarily mean military service – it may be done through the ballot box, through contact with elected representatives, and by speaking out. Changes that affect our laws, statutes, and policies must be opposed if they violate our constitution or religious freedoms. These areas are under attack! They are dangers to our liberties – from within!
As we look around our congregation this morning, we see evidence that many of our members have demonstrated that willingness to serve in our armed forces at various times in the past. Thank you military veterans – for your service!
And now, from the gospel lesson today, we read:
“This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” (Luke 15:2)
The Pharisees and scribes who uttered these words about our Lord were part of a tremendously self-righteous group of Jews. They were strict interpreters and followers of the Law as handed down through Moses. Indeed, the word “Pharisee” means, “separated,” and their desire was to separate themselves from those who did not follow the Mosaic Law down to the finest, most minute detail, especially in the areas of tithing and purity. This, of course, constantly placed them at odds with Jesus, who felt their obsession with minor details obscured the overall picture. Jesus was far more “people-oriented” than they, and often ignored the minor details in favor of the truly important parts of the Law. He described the Pharisees as “straining at a gnat, while swallowing a camel.” (Matthew 23:24)
He was always willing to put aside some of the technicalities of the Law in order to help someone or to provide forgiveness or healing – even on the Sabbath: to “mingle” with the “unclean” if necessary to get to those who needed His help. The Pharisees were more concerned with following the complicated procedures laid down in the Law, than with saving souls or helping the masses.
Jesus did not look too favorably on the attitude of the Pharisees, and they were very suspicious of Him. They could not understand why He constantly was in the midst of people such as tax collectors and all sorts of known sinners. They began to “murmur” their disapproval of this activity. His answer was in the form of the two parables we read in the Gospel for today – “The Lost Sheep,” and “the Lost Coin.”
Let’s look at these two parables, try to see the point Jesus was making – and then we will see how today’s epistle ties in.
The obvious message is, of course, that God shows His love by a never-ending search for sinners – who want His forgiveness and are truly repentant. “Repentance” is one of the most important words in today’s propers.
There is no question that the point of these parables is that God cares for all of His people. He is delighted when the lost one is searched out, found – repents – and is saved through God’s grace and love. This message upset the Pharisees. They always realized that God was willing to receive all who wished to turn to Him – but the idea of seeking them out – of mingling with sinners and trying to influence them – was going farther than they felt was necessary. They seemed to look at themselves as the ninety-nine sheep or the nine coins that were not lost, and mistakenly believed that they were not in need of forgiveness. After all, they followed the Law! This is what disturbed Jesus. He had no patience with those who felt no need for repentance!
The fact is that all of us – the ninety-nine as well as the one – all of us – are sinners and have plenty of reason to be repentant – to ask for forgiveness. If we do so, through God’s grace, we will receive it. This comes through His grace, and our asking for it – not through our works alone!
Jesus’ use of the ninety-nine sheep and the nine coins in these parables is not meant to imply that there are persons who are so righteous that they do not need repentance – or that one repentant person is somehow worth more than many righteous persons. These numbers are used merely to point out that lost objects are a cause for concern and sorrow – especially in the case of souls! God cares equally for all of us!
Peter tells us in the epistle this morning of another requirement we must meet to receive God’s grace. “God resists the proud,” he says, “But God gives grace to the humble.” (I Peter 5:5) Humility and repentance, then, are absolutely essential for God’s forgiveness. These are characteristics that seem to be sorely lacking in many of today’s newsmakers. We mortals are very good at excusing ourselves – blaming others for our shortcomings – and humility seems to be an increasingly rare commodity.
We are sorry to find countless reports of people in the public “limelight” who are involved in unsavory affairs – domestic, financial or political. We think of business scandals, government scandals, and also other prominent political or sports figures involved in unwholesome activity. Only after their being caught, is there sometimes a quick apology and even that is not very sincere in most cases – and often they do not seem to expect this activity to affect their income, or elected position, or career. Entertainment figures are even worse: many, when “caught,” do not even pretend to apologize!
Forgiveness is a multi-step process. One must repent – truly apologize to God (and others he has wronged), make a sincere effort to change one’s sinful ways, be humble about it – and then, through God’s grace, one may obtain forgiveness.
The tragedy in many of these instances is that they may not be isolated incidents in these people’s lives. Often they are long-term affairs that may go on for quite some long time and require a great deal of deceit – conscious efforts to hide activities – and are indicative of character flaws and serious shortcomings in the humility department! No truly humble person can maintain this type of activity over a long period of time. To do so implies that one feels that the law, the regulations, the moral code – and indeed, the Ten Commandments – do not apply to him. How often we hear of a prominent person who, after having a long-time affair or illegal activity exposed, will offer an apology for his “mistake” – only after the word is out. These things are not mistakes. Driving through a stoplight or wearing mismatched shoes or taking a wrong exit or even forgetting someone’s birthday, is a mistake. A long-term deliberate action is not! It represents a pattern. This is a far cry from humility! This is real “spiritual poverty”!
We think of “humility” as the “Mother of All Virtues.” The topical index in any study bible will show a sizable number of references to “humble” and “humility” in both the Old and New Testaments.
A well-known one from Luke (14:11) is “For everyone who exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Humility is one of the keys to salvation.
Genuine humility means to see reality as it actually is to God – not as we want it to be. It means to see ourselves and others as God does, and not as we would. The truly humble lay aside all vanity and conceit for the betterment of the least of God’s creatures, and to consider no good act as beneath one’s dignity and honor. Humility is the realization that without the grace of God, we are nothing.
Further on in the epistle, today, Peter writes, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8) I think the example of Satan as a roaring lion is very powerful – I always have a vivid mental picture as I read this passage. It certainly emphasizes how prevalent the Devil is in today’s world. It is Satan who is hard at work, pulling God and religion out of so many facets of our lives. This is because Christians are dropping their guard and allowing things to happen – things that are destroying our society and “watering down” our churches, turning them from God’s Holy Scriptures, and the Sacred Traditions. They are not following Peter’s admonition to “be sober; be vigilant.”
It is easy to become discouraged when one looks at the apparent decline in moral values and religious beliefs. Church attendance is an option for many families. Sunday is not the Holy day it once was, but is now the day that many use for shopping or mowing the grass. The moral decline, the blasé attitude toward homosexuality, adultery, cheating – all of these are most discouraging.
And then, we read the closing section of the epistle, and Peter gives us some encouraging words and assurances. He says that all of us are in the “same boat.” All of our brethren are suffering the same afflictions – we are not in this alone. Peter then assures us that God, who has called us into His eternal Glory by Christ, will, “after we have suffered a little while,” make us perfect, establish us, strengthen us, and set us on a firm foundation. We will be with Him in His kingdom! That is reassuring!
So, the key instructions in today’s propers are:
- Be repentant – we must as sinners, repent, confess our sins, talk with God – make our communion.
- Be humble – remembering that a man’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will retain honor.
- Be sober – in this case, it means to be clear-headed and wide-awake to the needs of others and to the dangers which face Christianity and its followers.
- Be vigilant – be constantly on guard against the works of the devil and do not just watch things happen. Do something about these affronts to Christianity – as we try to do in the Continuing Church movement, where God, the Holy Scriptures, and Sacred Tradition are still at the center of our worship and beliefs.
Now, while we are still on earth, we have work to do. It is up to us as practicing Christians, to help locate the lost sheep of this world – to find the lost coin! The societal trends are moving away from the Christian way, so our opportunities are great! We can find, right under our noses, plenty of people who do not know God. We probably mingle with them every day at work, in our neighborhoods, in our leisure activities. By setting examples in our lifestyle, and by our attendance to worship and church affairs, we show the non-believer that there is something missing from his life. By inviting him to attend church with us, we show that we care about him. There are many opportunities to bring the lost sheep safely back to the fold. It is up to us to do it! Amen
Processional – 287 – “Give praise and glory unto God”
Gradual – 404 – “My God, accept my heart this day”
Offertory – 345, 1st tune (6 Stanzas) “The King of love my shepherd is”
Communion – 198, 1st tune – “O God, unseen yet ever near”
Recessional – 523 – “God the Omnipotent! King, who ordainest ”
National Anthem (142) in place of postlude
June 25, 2017 2nd Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 191
O.T. Deuteronomy 20:1-9
Epistle: I John 3:13-24
Gospel: St. Luke 14:16-24
A sermon by The Rev. Fr. Raleigh H. Watson, DDS, Rector, St. Michael the Archangel Anglican Church, Winchester, Virginia.
“Let us not love in word… but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18)
In trying to live a Christian life, we really do have to follow the principles that are set down for us so clearly in scripture. We cannot just “wing it” in matters of this sort. Our propers today are good examples of those principles – or guidelines – and also provide a sort of “warranty,” if the instructions are followed. They constitute something very similar to a “contract” between God and Man.
In the collect this morning, we recognize that God never fails to “help and govern us, whom He brings up in His steadfast fear and love.” The word “govern,” as used here means to steer or guide. A “governor,” in this obsolete sense, resembles a helmsman or pilot who guides a ship. So here, we are asking God for guidance, or instructions. We ask that He keep us under His “good providence,” which means, “care.” And, we ask that He “make us to have a perpetual fear and love of His holy Name.” The word “fear” is used here, not in the sense of our being frightened, but as having respect for God, or being in awe of Him. This collect, then, recognizes that we are under God’s care and that He will show us the way. In it we ask for instructions on how to follow the paths that He wants us to take – that He “guide us when perplext.” (Recessional hymn – 276)
The epistle reading is from the First Epistle General of John, a book which emphasizes that God is Light; God is Love; and God is Life. This First Epistle of John is an important part of God’s guidance in how we should live our lives.
Here are some of the instructions in John’s epistle:
God is Light, therefore we must walk in light; must be informed, so that we may be on His “wavelength,” in order that we might communicate with Him. In the opening hymn (153) we prayed about this Light: “Pierce the gloom of sin and grief… and Fill me (us) radiancy divine.” To do this communicating, we will participate in the services offered in our church, will regularly make our communion, and will do our utmost to follow the Commandments, make our confessions, and ask for His continued help. Doing these things enables us to “keep the channels open” between God and ourselves. We need dialogue with God to be able to walk in His ways. In the offertory hymn (416), we will again pray about this Light – the “Light that marks the road that leads me (us) to the Lamb.”
God is Love, and since we are His children, we must walk in love. From today’s portion of John’s first epistle, we read, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18) We must do more than to just pay “lip service.” We must act on this Commandment to love others as ourselves. John speaks pretty strongly on this “love” business. He says that he who does not love his brother abides in death, and that he who hates his brother is a murderer and that no murderer has eternal life dwelling within him. It seems a little scary – that failure to love a neighbor is equated with the crime of murder. But, we do wish to participate in the Heavenly Feast, do we not? We must show God by our actions, that we do love Him.
God is Life, and we have a spiritual life with Him. This spiritual life is built around our faith in Jesus Christ and this faith in Christ is the pathway to our Eternal Life with Him. Again, from today’s portion of John’s First Letter, “This is his commandment, That we should believe on the name of his son, Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.” (I John 3:23)
So, this small portion of this short epistle provides us with a tremendous amount of instruction on how we should live. It constitutes an excellent synopsis of how we should play out our lives, and promises extraordinary benefits for those who follow the rules, as we read in the last lines of the epistle this morning: “And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us.” (I John 3:24) Remember – from last week – we have been invited into the “Trinitarian Circle.” If we keep the Commandments, we will be with Him in the Heavenly Kingdom. Granted, that is a big “if,” but it is right there in the contract! All we have to do is follow it!
Now, if we move on to the Gospel reading this morning, we will see what happens when we do not heed the guidance that we are given. The “Parable of the Great Feast” is really about mankind being invited to the “Heavenly Feast,” which represents the Heavenly Kingdom. But we are too busy with our own interests to accept the invitation of God, who has gone to a great deal of trouble to make preparations, and send out His invitations to us.
Notice that, in this parable, the host sent out his invitations ahead of time and it does not mention that anyone declined, until preparations were complete, and people were told to come immediately, that the meal was ready. Then they all began to make excuses, and what a variety these were! In this parable, these people represent those who have been too busy with their own desires to pay attention to God’s wishes. They have removed themselves from the guest list, by their own actions! Similarly, Mankind, by its failure to accept God’s invitation, is passing up an opportunity to be in the Heavenly Kingdom.
As we look at the world in which we live today – in our times – we wonder why so many people are removing themselves from the “guest list” for this important feast. The primary instructions we hear this morning refer to keeping the commandments. We do not find much of that in the world today. God is being denied; His day is not being kept holy; His name is taken in vain more and more all the time. Adultery, murdering children, coveting, and stealing have become the norm – as shown constantly in all forms of entertainment. The producers of this material say they are merely “mirroring” that which is true to life. Unfortunately, that may be – but their constant “barrage” of such behavior and attitudes does not help correct the situation. It makes it worse – and more acceptable!
The host in today’s parable wants to avoid his efforts being wasted, so he orders his servants to go out into the streets and bring in any who can come, specifically seeking out those who are sick, poor, maimed, or blind. He knows that these people will appreciate his efforts, and indicates that none of the original invitees will eat his food. And to further assure that his party is well attended, he sends out a second call through his servants, and they round up even more guests.
Another version of this parable is found in Matthew, and will be the reading on the 20th Sunday after Trinity. In that version, the meal is a wedding feast. Today’s is a shorter version, and more to the point. What we may infer from Luke’s Gospel today is that a wonderful future has been prepared for us, and God wants us to take advantage of His preparations, and especially His love for all of us. All of us are equal in His sight. He has no favorites. All we have to do to accept the invitation is to follow His wishes in the kind of life we live. He has outlined all of this in scripture very clearly, and the epistle today is an important part of His instructions to us. Let’s make use of the precise guidelines provided to us in the wonderful writings in the Bible. In so doing, we will be accepting the invitation to the “Heavenly Banquet.”
Processional – 153 – “Christ, whose glory fills the skies”
Gradual – 397 – “Let saints on earth in concert sing”
Offertory – 416, 2nd tune – “O for a closer walk with God”
Communion – 213 – “Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless”
Recessional – 276 – “Now thank we all our God”
June 18, 2017 1st Sunday after Trinity
Collect: p. 188
O.T. Jeremiah 23:23-32
Epistle: I John 4:7-21
Gospel: St. Luke 16:19-31
“God dwelleth in us and His love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12)
Last week, we began the Trinity Season – the season during which, we commemorate a doctrine that is of extraordinary importance to Christians (though some don’t even realize it!) and it is most definitely important to Anglicans. The concept of the Trinity is a little hard for some to grasp, and occasionally, someone will mention that he has never had it explained clearly, or that it was something that one was just expected to know about or accept without too much questioning. I do not think that is true of most St. Michael’s members – we have discussed the Trinity a great deal, over the years. It is important that all Christians should have a pretty thorough understanding of the Trinity – this is an important doctrine!
Today’s epistle reflects one aspect of the Trinity that we mentioned last week, and that we’ll expand on this morning. We mentioned, “Love,” and it is an important attribute of the three Persons of the Trinity. We said that this “love” is the “glue” that makes the Trinity work.
The epistle lesson that we heard this morning emphasizes this important facet of the Trinity – “Love” – and furthermore points out that it is the love of God that has provided us with the Trinity. “The Father hath given us the Spirit and sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.” (I John 4:13-14)
In our gradual hymn (294), we sang of this “wondrous love” He has for us, and we expressed wonder at why He should show “so much love to us below,” and then we mentioned that we place our trust in His “love for all to come.”
Each time we recite the Nicene Creed, we profess our faith with the words, “I believe in one God,” and then describe the three persons of the Trinity. Three equal persons – and each one dwells in the other two by virtue of mutual love. This love is the bonding agent that cements together the three persons of the Trinity, bringing to mind the cement I remember using on the model airplanes we built when we were young. In fact, I often like to use the construction of model airplanes as a means to teach the concept of the Trinity. The tail is not a wing; a wing is not the fuselage, but together, they comprise an airplane, still having wings, a tail, and a fuselage, but all cemented together and acting as a unit. So it is with the Trinity.
The love which bonds the Trinity is also the love that extends to us, takes us up, and brings us into the Trinitarian coinherence. “Coinherence” means that all three members of the Trinity inhere or exist within each other. A similar description for this is the Greek, “Perichoresis,” which refers to the “eternal infinite loving flow of person, idea and virtue” that exists between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each fully receiving and giving of the other: “Flow of person, idea and virtue.” “Trinitarian coinherence” and “Perichoresis” are similar descriptions – but slightly different – which illustrate the intimate relationship of the Three Persons of the Trinity – and each of which brings us into that relationship.
Jesus prayed for this to happen on the night before the Crucifixion, prayed for us all, as He said, “May they all be one: as Thou Father art in Me, and I in Thee, so may they also be in Us.” (John 17:21)
We are being invited into the Trinitarian circle! This is a tremendous expression of love extended to us by God – God who is Love – as we heard in the epistle this morning. (I John 4:8)
Love is interesting in that it cannot exist in only one person. It has to involve at least one other being. It implies sharing and reciprocity – cannot exist in isolation. One becomes a real person only through entering relationships with other persons.
God in the Trinity exhibits this love among the Three Persons. Just as the most precious element in human relations is the “I and Thou” relationship, so the Trinity exhibits the same relationship in a threefold way. This love among the three persons of the Trinity makes them exciting, dynamic, and full of action.
In our concept of the Trinity, three persons in one essence, we look to the first two Ecumenical Councils for clarification. Nicaea (in 325) and Constantinople (in 381) resulted in the Nicene Creed: Jesus Christ is True God from True God; equal to the Father. He is God in the same sense that the Father is God, and yet they are not two Gods, but One. And, the same is said for the Holy Spirit. He also is True God.
But although the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost together are a single God, each of the Three, from all eternity, is a distinct Person. God the Trinity, is thus three Persons in one essence. This “essence” represents the “One” and is the “Unity” we mentioned last week in the Trinity collect.
This “Unity” is possible because, although there are three distinct Persons, they never act apart from one another. This causes some people to feel that there is only one Person in God, who from time-to-time shows Himself and acts in different “manners,” “modes,” or “moods.”
Well, that is not what Jesus or scripture tells us. John’s gospel opens with “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) This tells us that the Son (the Word) was present all along, from the beginning, not just made up when Someone was needed to come to this planet and straighten things out. The same is true of the Holy Spirit. He, also, was there from the beginning.
The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are also eternally distinct. The Son and the Spirit are not just different aspects of God without a life and existence of their own. If this were not so, think how ridiculous it would be, for example, for Jesus the Son to pray to His Father and act in obedience to Him. If they were not two distinct Beings, He would be praying to Himself!
So, each person of the Trinity is one with the others. They share the same truth, and exercise the same love. The knowledge of each is the knowledge of all and the love of each is the love of all. This is why they act as one. Remember that model airplane!
Now, let’s take a look at how the Trinity has functioned in the history of the Church. St. Irenaeus spoke of the Son and the Spirit as being the “two hands of God the Father,” and notes that in every creative and sanctifying act, He is using these two hands.
At the Creation: “By the Word of the Lord were the Heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.” (Psalm 33:6): The Word (the Son) – and the Breath (the Spirit) – doing the work of the Father.
At the Incarnation: The Spirit visits the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation; the Eternal Son is conceived – all at the direction of the Father.
At Christ’s Baptism: The Father’s voice is heard as the Spirit descends, in the form of a dove, on the Son.
At the Transfiguration: Again, the Father’s voice is heard as the Spirit, this time in the form of a cloud, descends on the Son.
And, in our service of Holy Eucharist, at the Invocation, the priest calls upon the Father to send the Spirit, who transforms the elements into the Body and Blood of Christ, the Son.
Not only in these important events in the history of the Church, but in all phases of our lives, especially in our daily prayer, we will find the three Persons of the Trinity listening to us, working for us, joining us. They will do this – if we will make room in our lives, open our hearts, and allow them in – and reciprocate with the same love that brings them to us!
From this morning’s epistle: “God dwelleth in us and His love is perfected in us.” (I John 4:12)
Processional – 367 – “When morning gilds the skies”
Gradual – 294 – “Sing, my soul, his wondrous love”
Offertory – 366 – “All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine”
Communion – 190 – “Let thy Blood in mercy poured”
Recessional – 769 – “Joyful, joyful, we adore thee” (Words also found at 281.)
June 11, 2017 Trinity Sunday
Collect: p. 186
O. T. Isaiah 6:1-8
For the Epistle: Rev. 4:1-11
Gospel: John 3:1-15
“Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11)
The themes for Whitsunday and Trinity Sunday are closely related, so we’ll follow along this morning, with some of the points begun week. Last Sunday, we celebrated the descent of the Spirit upon the disciples on that first Whitsunday. As we consider this, we must keep in mind that the Holy Spirit was present in the disciples, prior to that event – and indeed is present in everything and everyone – and has been all along. His presence is not an “all or nothing” situation, and as a matter of fact, we benefit in having more and more of the “Fellowship of the Holy Spirit” bestowed upon us at various times of our lives – especially as we receive the various sacraments. Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Communion, and the other sacraments all result in additional descent of the Spirit on us – but He is already with us and in us! It is a matter of degree!
The Holy Spirit descended on Christ, Himself, at His Baptism – and surely He was richly endowed with the Spirit before that moment! You will remember that John the Baptist questioned Him about the need for His baptism – and He insisted that it be done!
If the Holy Spirit is within us – we believe also that, so too, is God the Father and God the Son. We believe this because of our concept of the Holy Trinity – the doctrine we commemorate today. It specifically portrays the Three as One, and this concept links together these past two Sundays – Whitsunday last week and Trinity Sunday, today.
Wherever one Person of the Trinity is present – there the other two Persons are, also. They may act independently to provide a particular result, in a particular situation, but even so, they are still one entity. This is very confusing to many people. We are taught that the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father or the Son, and the Father is not the Son or the Spirit. All Three are separate Persons – and yet, at the same time, all are One God! This is a beautiful concept – and for Christians, who have the Faith – it should not be so hard to understand, and really is quite important. Along with the Incarnation, it is vital to our understanding of who Christ is and how and why He came among us.
Although some may deny this concept, there is plenty of biblical support for the doctrine of the Trinity. Though the word, “Trinity,” is not found in the Bible, the doctrine is evidenced in both the Old and the New Testaments. God the Father and the Holy Spirit are found in the opening sentences of Genesis, and are sprinkled throughout the Old Testament – even prophecy of the coming of the Savior – obviously the Son – is found in Isaiah (19:20). In the New Testament, we find numerous mentions of the Trinity – one of the most dramatic is found in Matthew (3:16-17) at Jesus’ baptism, when all three members are present – the Father speaking about the Son, and sending the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove. The Transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-5) is another instance of the Father testifying for the Son, and sending the Holy Ghost, this time in the form of a cloud. In Galatians (4:4-6), we read of God sending forth His Son, and then the Holy Spirit. There surely is plenty of biblical testimony for the Trinity – even though the word does not appear!
Why do some find the concept of the Trinity difficult to understand? I suppose it is because they tend to look at things only from an earthly or material standpoint. When it comes to religious or spiritual matters, one cannot do that. The idea of “three in one” – separate, but the same – certainly is confusing to many. That is not surprising – it is a heavenly pattern or model – not intended to be a particularly easy concept for us to follow! God does not often do things just as a human would! And then some may wonder why is it a Trinity? Why not two or four or five Persons? Why have something so complicated? Why not do it another way? Of course the answer is that God chose to do it this way. Apparently, He did not want it to be just a simple “Unitarian” type of arrangement, regardless of what those who go by that name might tell us. The aforementioned instances are just three of the countless references to the Trinity. God was very explicit in describing the Trinity, and in the Seven Ecumenical Councils, the nature of God and the Trinity was a prime topic of discussion. It figured in the discussions revolving around many of the heresies.
In the lesson in place of an epistle today – from the Revelation of John – we read, “Thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created.” (4:11). This is the reason we say God is within all things – all people. He is within all of us because God has created all things – since He created them, He is part of everything – His love, His substance, and His craftsmanship, are the causes and content of everything. Note, too, the second part of that verse – “…for thy pleasure they are and were created.” God created everything – including us – for His pleasure. That is why He could do it in any form He wished!
God’s love, also, may explain some of the Holy Mysteries surrounding the Trinity – and it is a mysterious concept. We have noted that the Three Persons may act independently – and if that is so – some may wonder what would happen if one or two members of the Trinity did not have the same objective as the others. This is where the love of God comes in – due to the perfect love of God, they cannot disagree – their aims will always be the same – that is the meaning of the Unity of God. His love is the “glue” that makes the Trinity work – perfect love – perfect union – perfect coordination of efforts!
As we think about the Trinity, we have to realize that although the Three are in “perfect synchronization” and work together in complete accord – there are differences in the Three Persons. Because He became as one of us – Christ took on a personality – a human being with physical attributes. He therefore had a characteristic not possessed by the Father or the Spirit. Often, we will use the terms, “Father” and “God” interchangeably – probably in the back of our minds, we think of the Father as the “Greatest among equals” – although they are equal – Jesus is God and the Spirit is God. And, we may think of the Holy Spirit as the One who descends upon us and into our souls. But, as we have noted – these Three are One – and All are present within us! As Father Bede Jarrett states in, “The Little Book of the Holy Spirit,” “The power and eternity of the Father, the wisdom and beauty of the Son, and the love and joy of the Spirit, are for all time in our (my) heart(s).” All Three!
This is an extraordinary concept, and made possible by the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity.
So, today, we celebrate the Trinity – one of the key doctrines of our Anglican belief, and a natural “follow up” for the concentration on the Holy Spirit last Sunday. These two celebrations seem to go together and complement one another – quite naturally.
Processional – 266 “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty!”
Gradual – 269 “Round the Lord in glory seated”
Offertory – 273 “Holy God, we praise thy Name”
Communion – 197 “Let all mortal flesh keep silence”
Recessional – 267 “Holy Father, great Creator”
June 4, 2017 Whitsunday
Collect: p. 180
O.T. Joel 2:28-32
For the Epistle: Acts 2:1-11
Gospel: John 14:15-31
“Grant us by the (same) Spirit to have a right judgment in all things” (collect)
Although we usually refer to this day in the Church year as Whitsunday, it also is called Pentecost, and is a day on which the Jews also commemorated some other events. We’ll discuss these aspects for a few moments before we get into the real meaning of this most important day.
“Pentecost” literally means “Fiftieth Day,” and for the Jews was the feast that concluded the fifty days of celebration that began at Easter. Just as the Passover celebrated the Exodus from slavery in Egypt, Pentecost celebrated the giving of the Ten Commandments to Moses on Mount Sinai – the “giving of the Law,” which constituted the founding of “the Jewish Church.” Also, at about the time of this fiftieth day, the Jews held a festival known as the “Feast of Weeks,” which was a thanksgiving for the wheat harvest.
The name “Whitsunday” came from the English and other Northern European people. It is a contraction of the term “White Sunday,” which referred to the white garments worn for baptism on this day. The weather in the north made this later date more suitable for baptism than the traditional Easter time.
There is also the reference to Pentecost as being the “Birthday of the Church.” We’ll discuss that term in a few moments. So, we see that Whitsunday or Pentecost is a special day in the church year, for many different reasons.
What should be the significance of “Whitsunday,” or “Pentecost” to us, in our day-to-day lives? Well, we too, have received the Holy Spirit, just as did the disciples in the narration we have heard this morning. We all receive it as we are baptized, and although we probably do not hear the rushing noises and see the tongues of fire, the Holy Spirit surely descends upon each of us. Many of us do feel some special presence of the Holy Spirit at baptisms, confirmations, ordinations, and at Holy Communion. Some members of our congregation have mentioned this to me. All of these are occasions on which the Holy Spirit is a primary participant.
On that first Pentecost morning, the followers were gathered together – perhaps in the same “Upper Room” where the Last Supper had taken place. The account of what happened next is a very vivid description and comprises today’s lesson in place of an epistle. “There came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat on each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4) This account is very powerful – it is exciting to read and visualize. And as the power of utterance was given to them, the Apostles spilled out of the “Upper Room,” and into the crowded public area in the streets of Jerusalem, where they continued to speak in various tongues as they poured out the Word, preaching God’s message. Those who heard this were truly amazed as they heard the message in their various native dialects. This was a miracle and was God’s way of making a point. Although many of these people did come from afar and did have foreign tongues, it is also true that nearly all of those could have comprehended Aramaic or Greek. This “speaking in tongues” was a symbol – and not a necessity for communication.
As the disciples came down from the “Upper Room,” and scattered out into the streets, full of the Holy Spirit and speaking God’s word with enthusiasm, some bystanders accused them of “being drunk with new wine.” The Twelve Apostles emerged from the group, and Peter spoke – delivering a sermon on what the crowds were seeing. (Peter seems to have been the leader of the group at this time.) He explained that they were hardly drunk, since it was only the third hour of the day – or about nine AM. He touched on scriptures – that the crowd was witnessing the fulfillment of God’s promise that, in the last days, He would pour out His spirit “upon all people and they shall prophesy.” (Joel 2:28) We heard that promise in our lesson from the prophet Joel this morning. Peter explained that Jesus had risen. Many of those in the crowd had also been part of the crowd before Pilate who had urged that Christ be crucified – only seven weeks before! Now, they were being told of His Resurrection, and were hearing scripture which prophesied such an event, and witnessing the miracle of the tongues – and being caught up in the fervor of this event. Some scoffed at what they were hearing, as you would imagine, but many were convinced, and in Acts, it is recorded that three thousand were converted to Christianity on that day!
We notice that this type of event could not have happened had the Feast of Weeks not been under way – to swell the population of Jerusalem with the visitors who spoke many different tongues.
This event – the bestowing of the Holy Spirit on the disciples – is considered to be the “birthday” of the Church. It was at this very moment that the disciples were empowered to go forth and be witnesses throughout the world. And this they did. From this time on, we read no more in the New Testament about Christians being afraid to speak out for Christ. The coming of the Holy Spirit had changed them profoundly.
The Holy Spirit has a profound effect on us also, beginning at the time of our baptism. Only by the presence of the Holy Spirit are we able to accomplish the good works we are supposed to be carrying out in the name of the Lord. Only by the presence of the Holy Spirit and his power are we able to keep His Commandments, and be in communion with God the Father.
As Christians, we recognize the extraordinary value of having received the Holy Spirit, and in our Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer, we pray that the Holy Spirit not be taken from us. We pray for this continued presence of the Holy Spirit in our collect today – “Grant us by the (same) Spirit to have a right judgment in all things.” And in the Gospel reading, we find reassurance from our Lord that if we love Him and keep His commandments, even though He is leaving us physically, the Father will send another Advocate or Comforter who will abide in us forever – the Spirit of Truth.
We look at Pentecost not merely as a celebration of a major event in the life of the Church that happened many centuries ago. No, it is also the example of what must happen and does happen to us in our Church life today. We have died and risen with Christ. We have received the Holy Spirit and he lives in us. We are to be witnesses for Christ, just as were the original disciples.
We may do our witnessing in a quiet manner. We do this by setting examples in the following ways: by the type of lifestyle we live; by our attention to prayer and church attendance; by our respect for the Sabbath as a special day of the week; by our daily treatment of our fellow man; and in our conversations with those we know. And, all of us in the so-called “Continuing Church movement” send a strong message of witness by having formed these little groups – these congregations – making an important statement that many of the mainline churches just no longer are preaching God’s true message. Heresy is destroying them. They have drifted off, no longer being guided by scripture and tradition, but bending and adapting to the trends of the modern secular world. Absolutes and black and white comparisons no longer seem to apply. Various shades of gray have become the norm and scripture is being rewritten subtly, insidiously, to accommodate this secular takeover.
Within some denominations, the sacraments have been downgraded in importance, especially in the case of the Holy Eucharist. Many modern churches no longer treat the Blessed Sacrament as the Body and Blood of Christ as we always have done. They deny the “Real Presence.” We wonder how they see the role of the Holy Spirit, if the “Real Presence” is not recognized. Well, many don’t recognize the Trinity either – in so doing, they have discarded the Holy Spirit also! In these churches, Communion is open to any and all – regardless of belief. Confirmation has become an option – no longer the important rite that makes one eligible to receive. In the matter of morals, there seems to be a way to justify many behavioral traits that we know are just plain wrong and have been forbidden by God and the Church for all time.
We of the Continuing Church movement need to do more in the way of bringing new people into our congregations. That is “witnessing for Christ.” We cannot just sit by and wait for a newspaper advertisement to attract new members. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit, let’s show it by talking about this church that means so much to us, as we speak to friends and acquaintances, when the subject comes up. We don’t have to be “pushy” in doing this – in fact, that can be a “turn-off – but when an opportunity presents itself, we can mention little things about our beliefs and the feeling of the Holy Spirit that we experience here, and then invite people to come, or pick them up and bring them. May we all try to do more along these lines!
I know it is not easy. We have to realize that our strict, formal liturgy is very foreign to most other Protestants. To many, church attendance no longer is an occasion to put on proper attire, to prepare oneself by prayer and perhaps fasting before a service, and to maintain a prayerful silence and meditation from arrival until the service is over. To many, it does not seem important to participate in a liturgy that has existed since the early days of the Church and be part of our Lord’s continuing sacrifice. Purity and validity of Holy Orders for the clergy are not a consideration for many. There was a time when all of these were important and were followed regularly.
Let us pray that the Holy Spirit may continue to work in us as individuals, in our families, in our congregation, and throughout all of the Continuing Churches. May He lead us to be effective witnesses for Christ, as were the disciples on the first Pentecost following our Lord’s Resurrection! May we “by the same Spirit… have a right judgment in all things.”
Processional – 107 –“Hail thee, festival day!”
Gradual – 370 – “Spirit divine, attend our prayers”
Offertory – 108 (2nd tune) – “O come, Creator Spirit, come”
Communion – 209, 2nd tune – “O Saving Victim, opening wide”
Recessional – 110 – “Hail thee! Spirit, Lord eternal”