Advent: The Four Last Things

Session 2 — Judgment

Session 2 — Judgment

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

In all time of tribulation; in all time of prosperity; in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
Good Lord, deliver us. Amen
(BCP 2019, The Great Litany (excerpts), pp. 91-92).


Hebrews 9:27–28 (ESV): 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

I do not like stringing a guitar. I dislike it so much that I generally pay other people to do it. Unfortunately, my trusted local guitar shop closed, and recently I had to replace a broken string on my daughter’s guitar myself. The string is fixed at two opposite points on the instrument, one at the tuning peg and other at the bridge. The tuning peg presents no real problem. But, on a classical guitar, the bridge is another matter. The string goes through a small hole in the bridge, is then looped back on itself, and a twisted “knot” of sorts is formed. Then with one hand holding that knot in position and a second hand guiding the placement of the string on the tuning peg, you use your third hand to tighten the string. Don’t have a third hand? Now you see why I hate stringing a guitar.

With the string secured at opposite ends of the guitar you can begin to increase the tension in the string to bring it up to proper pitch, all the while praying that the knot at the bridge doesn’t slip forcing you to start all over again. Three elements are required to make good music on a guitar string: two opposite fixed points and proper tension in the string between them.

It is often the same with theology. There are two fixed points apparently on opposite ends of the theological spectrum, and we are required to live in tension between the two. Is God immanent (God with us) or is God transcendent (God utterly beyond us)? Yes, to both: those are the two opposite fixed points and we must live in tension between them. Lose either one of them and you can’t make good theological “music.” Has God elected a people for himself, or do we have free will? Yes, to both: those are the two opposite fixed points and we must live in tension between them. Is death an enemy or an ally? Is God impartially just or is God graciously merciful? And so on. We are often called to hold apparently opposite and contradictory notions in tension with one another, knowing that the truth, as best human minds can fathom it, is found in the tension and not at either fixed end alone.

I mention this because such tension may well emerge in today’s lesson, for some of you more than others based on your theological and denominational backgrounds. Today, we speak of judgment, of God’s final judgment, and of the basis for that judgement.


Introductory Questions
Before we engage the various biblical texts related to judgment, let’s start with a few introductory questions:

What is judgment? Many definitions are possible. Perhaps this one will do: judgment is a discerning assessment of merit, quality, or worth. The image of a plumb line is used in the Old Testament as an image of judgment, and that gets at it pretty well. Is this wall vertical or not? If not, it is judged unworthy of the craftsman and considered a defective product.

What are the purposes or functions of judgment?

Judgment has several related purposes or functions:

• To say yes to some some things and to say no to others, i.e., to draw necessary distinctions

• To vindicate and reward some and to repudiate and punish others

• To encourage good behavior and to discourage bad behavior

• To promote goodness, truth, and beauty and to eliminate evil, lies, and ugliness

• To execute justice and put all things to rights

Is judgment something to be desired? Judgment — both human and divine — seems necessary and, in that sense, desirable. We make judgments — which is to say decisions — all the time and they make life function. As for divine judgment, would we really want a God who makes no distinctions between good and evil, between justice and injustice, who does not say yes to some things and no to others? Hardly: though we may not want to be the recipient of divine judgment, the idea of existence without divine judgment seems worse still. This may be one of the most important points in this lesson; a God who does not judge between good and evil is not good and loving, but rather irresponsible and derelict in his moral duties. While we may not want to be judged, we certainly want some others judged. A God who does not judge is no god at all.

The Two Fixed Points
It is time now to turn to Scripture and to locate the two fixed points on the spectrum of judgment.

The first of the fixed points is a declaration of salvation by faith:

Ephesians 2:8–10 (ESV): 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

We can call this fixed point Judgment by Faith, and I want to affirm it absolutely; we are saved — judged righteous before God — by grace through faith and not as a result of works.

The second of the fixed points, though, is a declaration of works:

Romans 2:2–11 (ESV): 3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

6 He will render to each one according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

We can call this fixed point Judgment by Works, and I want to affirm it absolutely; God will render to each one according to his works, eternal life for those who do well and wrath and fury for those who obey unrighteousness.

For various theological, political, and sociological reasons, the churches of the Reformation and their descendants have privileged the first fixed point — judgment by faith — and have almost untethered the “theological string” from the other fixed point. It is an exaggeration — but not by much — to say that the Reformers did not live in the tension but rather eliminated it by having only one fixed point: faith. That is true to some extent of the Anglican Church as its doctrine is expressed in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:

We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

While this is true, it is not the whole truth.

We will return to the Articles in a bit to see how this position is properly nuanced. But first, let’s examine a good sampling of Scripture that insists on the other fixed point, that all men — Christians not excepted — will be judged by their works.

We start, as we should, with Jesus. He speaks of the importance of works/fruit and the reality of judgment based upon works/fruit most often in analogies and parables.

Matthew 7:15–23 (ESV): 15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

And, notably, there is the parable of the talents in which the servants are judged and rewarded/punished based upon their fruitfulness.

Matthew 25:14–30 (ESV): 14 “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. 15 To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. 17 So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. 18 But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. 19 Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. 20 And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ 21 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 22 And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ 23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ 24 He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ 26 But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28 So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. 29 For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

It is interesting that in these parables, there is no mention of faith, but only of works/fruitfulness.

But, it is not Jesus alone who speaks of works and judgment. Paul, the Apostle of grace, insists on it as does the author of Hebrews and St. John the Evangelist.

In addition to the passage from Romans 2 we read earlier, there are these passages from 1, 2 Corinthians, Hebrews, and Revelation.

1 Corinthians 10:1–12 (ESV): 10 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” 8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV): 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.

Hebrews 10:23–31 (ESV): 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Revelation 20:11–15 (ESV): 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

So, the fixed point of judgment based upon works/fruit is abundantly attested to in Scripture, and we find ourselves living in the tension between faith and works if we want to be faithful to Scripture.

Living in the Tension
So, how do we make sense of this? Better minds and hearts than mine have tried with greater or lesser measures of success. I can make a few tentative suggestions based upon their work, suggestions which I think are faithful to Scripture and to our own Anglican tradition based upon Scripture.

First, let’s begin with the notion of faith itself. There is a tendency in the modern church to reduce faith to belief, but that distorts the fullness of faith in Scripture. A better understanding of faith— better in the sense of being more faithful to Scripture — involves a classical three-fold paradigm: notitia, assensus, fiducia — notion (understanding), assent, and fidelity. To see how this works, let’s consider the earliest Christian creed: Jesus is Lord.

The first essential element of faith is simply to understand the notion being expressed. The earliest Christians, who were all too familiar with the declaration “Caesar is Lord,” knew full well what was being stated. It was not a nice invitation to believe in Jesus or not; it was a proclamation that there was a new ruler before whom every knee must bow, Jesus of Nazareth, crucified, resurrected, ascended, and ruling at God’s right hand. They understood.

The second essential element of faith is to assent to the notion. Do you accept it as true or not? Your assent does not change the truth of the assertion, but it does determine whether you will progress to the next step of faith.

The final essential element of faith is fidelity. You understand, and you believe (assent). Now, you must exercise fidelity; that is, you must live in accordance with what you understand and believe. I might say it this way: the last essential element of faith is faithfulness. And fidelity/faithfulness is demonstrated by what you do, i.e., by works/fruit. Josephus was once sent on behalf of Rome to confront a Jewish rebel. He did so with these words, “Repent and believe in me.” What did he mean? He meant for the rebel leader to turn away from his rebellion and to act faithfully toward Josephus as a representative toward Rome. The rebel’s belief would be demonstrated by his faithfulness and the fruit it bore. To understand and believe is to stop short of full faith. Understanding and belief do not save; they will not withstand God’s judgment. The classic presentation of this is by James, the brother of our Lord.

James 2:14–26 (ESV): 14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

18 But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. 19 You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! 20 Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? 21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; 23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. 25 And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? 26 For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.

It is not mere belief but full blown faith — understanding, assent, fidelity/faithfulness — that counts. And that kind of faith necessarily produces the kind of work/fruit that will be seen and judged as saving faith in the final judgment. Notice the subtlety here. You are indeed saved by faith only (sola fide), but saving faith necessarily produces the evidence of good works. This accords well both with Scripture and with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion:

Albeit that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God’s Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

Let me suggest another way to live in this tension. To be “in Christ” means to be in dwelt by the Holy Spirit. And the Spirit bears fruit in the life of the believer:

Galatians 5:16–26 (ESV): 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Far be it from me to judge another! But, I think it appropriate to discern the presence or absence of the fruit of the Spirit in my own life. If I am unconcerned about bearing fruit, if no fruit is present, and even worse, if the works of the flesh are evident in abundance instead of the fruit of the Spirit, this is evidence weighing against my claim of saving faith. Ultimately, Christ judges, but I must take stock since not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven (Mt 7:21).

Judgment and Reward
It is not just the mere presence of works or even the abundance of works that will be judged, but also their quality. While St. Paul is writing specifically about the work of building the church and maintaining unity, I think his thinking can be extended more generally:

1 Corinthians 3:10–15 (ESV): 10 According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. 11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw— 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. 14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

Some works are of high quality and will survive the judgment/testing by fire. These will result in reward. Those of low quality may not survive the judgment and reward may be lost. Paul doesn’t detail the nature of the reward and the loss, and I will not speculate. But, perhaps, Jesus’ parable of the talents provides a hint. In that parable, the reward for a job well done was greater authority and greater opportunities for service. I do not expect to sit on a throne judging the nations, but I hope, perhaps, to be a doorkeeper in the kingdom.

So, how can we summarize the theological tension of judgment?

We start with the saving work of Jesus Christ. It is this, and this alone, that frees man from the dominion of the demonic, cleanses man from sin, and releases man from bondage to death — the three-fold problem for which the Gospel is the solution, as we discussed in our first session. We cannot accomplish this victory on our own; our very best works are woefully insufficient.

And that realization brings us to the first fixed point: judgment based on faith alone, where faith is understood fully as understanding, assent (belief), and fidelity (faithfulness). That type of faith will necessarily produce good works/fruit as evidence of faith.

The second fixed point follows from that: we will be judged based upon the evidence of faithfulness that we present, i.e., we will be judged based on our work/deeds/fruit and rendered a reward accordingly.

There may be a tension between these two, but there is no contradiction. In typical Anglican fashion, the answer is not either/or, but both/and. One of our treasured Anglican mottos is lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer is the law of faith. It means that we pray what we believe and believe what we pray. So, if I have rightly “tightened the string” it ought to play the music of a good Anglican prayer. Listen to see if it does. See if you hear notes of faithfulness, works, and reward.

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that bringing forth in abundance the fruit of good works, they may be abundantly rewarded when our Savior Jesus Christ comes to restore all things; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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The Four Last Things: Advent 1 — Death

Session 1 — Death

NOTE: These are the notes to the first of four session of the class Advent: The Four Last Things offered at Apostles Anglican Church. TO participate fully with the latter part of the lesson, you will need access to the Book of Common Prayer 2019 which you can find online at The Anglican Church In North America under the MORE and RESOURCES tabs.

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

O God, who for our redemption gave your only begotten Son to die upon the Cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the devil and the power of death: Grant us grace to die daily to sin, that we may live with him in the joy of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.


Begin With the End In Mind
Nearly thirty-five years ago, Steven Covey authored one of the most widely read and influential self-help and business books ever published: The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It presents seven fundamental principles/practices that, generally speaking, “make life work better,” in the sense of making one functional and productive. I’ve read it, and, for what it purports to be, it is quite good.

The second habit — ironically second because you’d think it would be first — is: Begin with the end in mind. This habit reminds you to ask some basic questions before starting a task, questions like:

What am I trying to accomplish?

What is my true purpose, the desired outcome?

What would mark a successful end of this endeavor?

Much wasted effort, squandered resources, and even human tragedy could be avoided if politicians, business professionals, churches, and “regular folk” like us, paused to practice this one habit: Begin with the end in mind. If your purpose is to have a pleasant Sunday afternoon drive — like we used to do when I was a child — then it doesn’t much matter which direction you take or which road you choose. But, if you are trying to arrive at a particular destination, you may need a map or a GPS. In such a case, beginning with the end in mind is essential.

I mention this simply because Advent marks not only the beginning of a new liturgical season, but also the beginning of a new Christian year. What if we followed Covey’s advice here at the beginning of the year: Begin with the end in mind? We might ask such questions as:

What is the church trying to accomplish with the Advent season?

What is the true purpose of Advent, the desired outcome of this four-Sunday observance?

What would mark a successful end of this observance?

Toward what end does Advent point?

Perhaps, the last question is the one we should consider: Toward what end does Advent point? Now, the obvious answer is to say Christmas, since Advent ends with Christmas. Most commonly, Advent is considered the four Sunday, three to four week, season of preparation for Christmas. If the end is Christmas, then that will shape how you think about and observe Advent from the beginning. Themes of faith, hope, love, joy, and peace will dominate your — and your church’s — reflections. Mind you, there is nothing wrong with that, and much right about it. But, that is not always how Advent was observed; it was not always the end toward which Advent pointed. For the greatest part of the history of the season, Advent pointed not toward Jesus’ first coming in the nativity, but toward his second and final coming in the parousia. The end toward which Advent pointed was the end of this world. Recall our Sunday afternoon drive: a different destination requires a different set of roads and directions. If we are headed toward the end of all things, it might not be the thoroughfares of faith, hope, love, joy and peace that we travel. No, the church traditionally gave us a different set of directions called the four last things: death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Back to Covey’s second habit: the purpose of Advent was to prepare us to meet the Lord, either at our death or at his second coming. So, the church invited us to think on the four last things. Traditionally, Advent truly began with the end in mind.

So, that’s what I propose to do for these four Sundays — to observe a traditional Advent by thinking about death, judgment, heaven, and hell. Even as we do this, the other Advent themes of faith, hope, love, joy, and peace will never be far from us. The end of all things should not frighten us, but rather should fill us with expectation — another Advent theme — and hope. With that, we turn our attention today to death, the first of the four last things.


The Origin and Nature of Death
The great theologians — St. Thomas Aquinas, for example — tell us that evil is nothing at all. By that they mean that evil is not a created thing, that it has no substance or existence of its own; rather, evil is simply a privation or lack of the good just as darkness is a privation of light, or cold a privation of heat. Evil is an existential vacuum, the lack of anything substantive. Theologically, that is a crucial distinction. If we say evil is a thing with its own existence, then we must also say that God created evil, since, in the words of the Nicene Creed:

We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, visible and invisible (BCP 2019, p. 109).

So, to avoid casting God as the creator and author of evil, we must say that good “is” and evil “is not,” that good exists in a way that evil does not.

I introduce that theological distinction because it applies not only to evil, but also very directly to the first of the four last things: death. Death is not a created thing; it has no substance or existence of its own. Rather, death is a privation, an absence, of life. Life is; death is not. Death was not created by God; it is the unavoidable consequence of the human rejection of life. Death is the deprivation of the good of life.

The Wisdom of Solomon makes this clear:

Wisdom of Solomon 1:12–16 (RSVCE): 12 Do not invite death by the error of your life,
nor bring on destruction by the works of your hands;
13 because God did not make death,
and he does not delight in the death of the living.
14 For he created all things that they might exist,
and the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them;
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
15 For righteousness is immortal.
16 But ungodly men by their words and deeds summoned death;
considering him a friend, they pined away,
and they made a covenant with him,
because they are fit to belong to his party.

The Wisdom of Solomon, pictures death as a false friend whom godless men summoned and with whom they made covenant. This is literary technique; it isn’t intended to imply that death is really a being or even that death exists. No, the text’s primary insistence is that God is not the originator of death; man invited death by the work of his own hands. God did not make death, nor does he delight in it. Rather, God created all things that they might exist. That means that we cannot truly understand death as a thing with its own existence; we cannot understand death on its own. Instead, to understand the nature of death, which is not, we must begin with life, which is. Specifically, we must consider human life as God created it if we are to understand human death. And that takes us to Genesis 2, to the creation of man.

Genesis 2:5–9 (ESV): 5 When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6 and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground— 7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8 And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9 And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

As the Nicene Creed tells us, God is the creator of two realms: things in heaven and things on earth, things visible and things invisible, things material and things spiritual.

In the creation account in Genesis, man is formed to be a macrocosm, a bringing together of all of God’s creative action, of all things in the two realms, in one new being. Man is physical, formed from the dust of the ground; we have this materiality in common with the animals. Man is spiritual, enlivened by the breath/spirit of God; we have this spirituality in common with the angels. Man is an essential unity of body and soul, of inanimate matter with anima/soul, and because of this man is the pinnacle of creation, higher than both animals and angels, because man has something that both of them lack: physicality/materiality which the angels do not have and spirituality which the animals and inanimate objects do not have. This unity is essential for a right understanding of Christian anthropology and death; what God has joined together was never meant to be put asunder. Apart from the soul, we do not have man in the fullest sense, but only the body of a man. Apart from the body, we do not have man in the fullest sense, but only the soul of a man.

This is the icon of human life given in Scripture: man as the joining together of heaven and earth — material and spiritual — essentially united. This is life, and anything less is “not life.” But, note this: life is not inherent in man; it does not properly “belong” to man. Instead, it is the gift of God and is maintained only by constant communion with God (presence) and obedience to God. This lies at the heart of God’s instruction/warning to Adam in Genesis 2:

Genesis 2:15–17 (ESV): 15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Man was placed in the Garden — signifying communion with God in God’s presence — and given a single rule to obey, really more a warning than a rule. But you know how the story goes downhill in Genesis 3: disobedience and exile. And, in the very day that Adam and Eve disobeyed and were exiled from God’s presence, they died because they were cut off from the source of life, cut off from a life-giving relationship with God. We might call this a spiritual death. The sign of that was their exile outside of Eden. Later, Adam and Eve experienced a second death, a physical death, the separation of the body and soul with the subsequent decay of the body. What God had joined together, man, in his sin, put asunder.

Now, with all this background, we can finally begin to define death, or at least to describe it better. Death was first of all the severing of the intimate relationship with God, the loss of a relationship of perfect innocence, perfect communion, and perfect obedience. It was the darkening of the spirit, that part of the soul that knows God directly and that rightly governs the soul and body. That was the death about which God warned Adam: for in the day you eat of it you shall surely die. In that sense, all of us after Adam are born dead, which is precisely why Jesus tells Nicodemus he must be born again, born of water and Spirit if he is to enter the Kingdom of God. But there is a second type of death derivative of the first: the rending apart of body and soul, the violent separation of that which defines man and constitutes man as a living being. At this death, the body, lacking the animating energy of the soul, loses its own material integrity, experiences corruption, and returns to the dust from whence it came. And what of the soul? The Old Testament is ambiguous and not univocal about the “fate” of the soul. Some writers seemed to think that the soul vanishes just as the body, that the human is truly and finally gone. Some seemed to think that the soul languishes in a dim, half-life in Sheol, the place of the dead. Some seem to think that Sheol is divided into two distinct regions — one in which the righteous are rewarded and the other in which the wicked are punished. This latter scheme was common among Second Temple Jews and is evident in Jesus’ parable of Dives, the rich man, and Lazarus. Even in this way of thinking, though, man was not fully man after death because the soul and body were separated. It also seems that even righteous men, in this understanding, are still not in full communion with God; they are, after all, in the land of the dead, and not of the living.

If this is your understanding of death — either non-existence or a dim, shadowy half-life — then death is the dread that awaits us all, a thing to run from as long as you can, a thing to be avoided at all costs.


Let’s pause here for a summary with just a few additional points thrown in for good measure.

Death is nothing. Instead, it is the absence of life.

Death was not the intent or desire of God from the beginning. To that extent, death stands athwart the will of God and is therefore an enemy of God and man. And yet, God did weave death into the fabric of creation, not as a punishment for disobedience, but as a consequence of it. Let me give an example. Consider the statement, You must eat and drink; if you do not, you will die. You must eat and drink is not a rule that must be obeyed, but rather a statement of the truth of created reality. Likewise, you will die is not a punishment or a curse, but simply the natural consequence of failing to do what is required to maintain life.

So, the narrative of creation, fall, and death has this pattern:

Statement of God’s will and warning of the consequences of disobedience (Gen 2:16-17)


Spiritual Death: loss of intimate communion with God (exile); man incurvatus in se rather than man turned outward toward God

Physical Death: separation of body and soul and the corruption of the body

One final point in this summary: because death stands athwart God’s original intent, death stands in relation to God and man as an enemy. And yet, as he does so often throughout salvation history, God uses the enemy to accomplish his purpose for the good of man; he turns the enemy into the unwilling ally. How is death in any way used for the good of man?

1. Death keeps man from living eternally in a state of sin and exile. In this sense, death keeps man in-check by limiting the chronological scope of his fallen power. Imagine an immortal Hitler or Stalin or Pol Pot. Death protects the world from limitless evil.

2. Death is an impetus to repentance. Why repent if all will continue as it is? But, if there is an end to this existence and if there is a judgment following it, then I just might become serious about repentance. This is made clearer in earlier editions of the Book of Common Prayer, e.g. the BCP 1662, than in more modern revisions. For example, there is this prayer for the sick in the BCP 1662:

Hear us, Almighty and most merciful God and Saviour; extend thy accustomed goodness to this thy servant who is grieved with sickness. Sanctify, we beseech thee, this thy fatherly correction to him; that the sense of his weakness may add strength to his faith, and seriousness to his repentance: that, if it shall be thy good pleasure to restore him to his former health, he may lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory: or else give him grace so to take thy visitation, that, after this painful life ended, he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our modern prayers for the sick are typically more “upbeat” than this, and that is not necessarily a good thing. God uses the certainty of death — and the uncertainty of its timing — to add strength to our faith and seriousness to our repentance. That is the way that God turns the enemy of death into an ally for our spiritual welfare.

But, we can’t stop here with death. As Christians, we must move from death to life.


The Gospel
I start with this central notion: Death is the problem for which the Gospel is the solution. While that is true, it is only part of the truth. More completely we should say that the Gospel is the solution to three existential crises facing man: (1) the rule of the demonic powers — Satan and his fallen angels — over man, (2) death, both spiritual and physical, and (3) sin. The Gospel is the proclamation that, in and through the life, death, resurrection, ascension, and parousia of Jesus, God has begun to deal with and finally will deal with these three crises. All three are related and really need to be discussed together, but that must be a story/lesson for another time. Our focus in this lesson is on death. So, I say again: Death is the problem for which the Gospel is the solution.

You see this proclamation all throughout the written Gospels. Just a few examples from the Gospel according to St. John will suffice to make that point.

John 1:1–4 (ESV): 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men.

John 10:27–28 (ESV): 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

John 11:21–27 (ESV): 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give you.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” 27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

The theme of the Gospel is life, and that changes forever the way we approach death. The proclamation of the Gospel as the solution to the problem of death begins — as everything in the Christian life does — with baptism:

Dearly beloved, Scripture teaches that we were all dead in our sins and trespasses, but by grace we may be saved through faith. Our Savior Jesus Christ said, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’: and he commissioned the Church to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Here we ask our Heavenly Father that these Candidates, being baptized with water, may be filled with the Holy Spirit, born again, and received into the Church as living members of Christ’s body. Therefore, I urge you to call upon God the Father, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that of his abundant mercy he will grant to these Candidates that which by nature they cannot have (Holy Baptism, The Exhortation, BCP 2019, p. 162).

In the Profession of Faith required at baptism, there is a series of renunciations. These, too, are a Gospel proclamation because they show how baptism implements in the life of the baptizand the victory of Christ over the three problems we mentioned earlier: the rule of the demonic powers, physical and spiritual death, and sin:

Question: Do you renounce the devil and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God (the rule of the demonic powers)?

Answer: I renounce them.

Question: Do you renounce the empty promises and deadly deceits of the world that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God (physical and spiritual death)?

Answer: I renounce them.

Question: Do you renounce the sinful desires of the flesh that draw you from the love of God (sin)?

Answer: I renounce them (BCP 2019, p. 164).

And, of course, baptism brings one back into union with God who is the source of our life. As we lost that communion in the Garden, we regain it in baptism. This is the beautiful spiritual paradox of this: death is used to overcome death and to bring forth life:

Romans 6:3–11 (ESV): 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

This is the real reason that no Christian need ever fear death: we have already died and been born again.

If we fear death, perhaps we have not yet already died sufficiently to the world, the flesh, and the devil.

That obviously doesn’t mean that we can avoid physical death, the separation of body and soul. But is does mean that the true death, the separation of the soul from God, has been overcome on our behalf by Christ and that we are united to that victory over death in our baptism.


But, what of physical death? How is a Christian to understand and deal with physical death? Here, it is helpful to turn to our Anglican rites and prayers in the BCP: lex orandi, lex credendi.

Let’s begin with the introductory material to the burial rites, Regarding Christian Death And Burial, BCP 2019, p. 246. [Distribute the Apostles Funeral Planning Customary.]

Next, note the first prayer on p. 247. What three things are we praying for? Notice that we are offering this prayer for someone who is dead. What sense does that make? Return to the first paragraph on p. 246. There is no past tense for the departed faithful; their life is changed (improved!) but not ended. Nor is our love for them ended. That is why we continue to pray for them. This practice also implies that the life after death and before resurrection is not static; our departed may move from one degree of glory to another and may grow in grace, knowledge, and service of the Lord.

Notice the first and last anthems said during procession of the body (pp. 249-250). How do they set the theme for Christian burial?

Consider the prayer At The Burial Of An Adult (p. 250). What do you note of significance?

The Prayers of the People (pp. 253-254)
Notice the emphasis on the unity of the Church in the first petition; the Church consists of those faithful still in this mortal life and those faithful departed who are now with the Lord. We are separated from one another only materially, but never spiritually. The material separation is the source of our sorrow, but the spiritual unity is the source of our joy.

N. T. Wright says, rather tongue-in-cheek, that heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world, that life-after-death is important, but that life after life-after-death is the point. He means simply that we are not destined to live in heaven as disembodied souls throughout eternity. The resurrection is the point, in which we will be given resurrection/spiritual bodies (more real and substantial than our current bodies!), in which we will dwell at the intersection of the new heavens and the new earth. This is hinted at in the second petition (p. 253) and the sixth petition (p. 254).

Note again the emphasis on the dynamic nature of the life of the departed in the final petition (p. 254).

What is the special significance of the Eucharist in The Burial of the Dead?

As far as I’m concerned, this part of the rites of burial alone is adequate justification to be an Anglican. [Discuss the various prayers noting especially the description of the state of the departed in the prayer beginning “Into you hands…” (BCP 2019, p. 256).]

Discuss the Nunc Dimittis and the Pascha Nostrum. [End the class by saying the Pascha Nostrum together.]

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Ordination To the Sacred Order of Priests

St. Thomas Anglican Church
Fr. John A. Roop

A Homily at the Ordination of Joe Gunby to the Sacred Order of Priests
(Is 6:1-8, Eph 4:7-16, Phil 4:4-9)

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Isaiah 6:1(ESV): 6 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

Your Grace, Fr. Daniel and fellow clergy, brothers and sisters in Christ at St. Thomas: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I trust you won’t object if I turn my attention to Deacon Joe — soon to be Father Joe, God willing and the people consenting — for just a few moments, will you?

Joe, you have successfully completed your Presbyter Exam, or we wouldn’t be here this evening. We know that you know matters essential and matters important: the grand sweep of the Biblical narrative, the essence of our catholic faith as summarized in the Nicene Creed, the core doctrines of that faith — Christology, anthropology, ecclesiology, pneumatology, Trinitarian theology — and the particular ways those are expressed in our Anglican formularies, The Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer. You have on paper and in your service as deacon demonstrated your understanding of liturgy and your ability to conduct the services of this church; your proficiency to exegete a text and outline a sermon, and to faithfully preach God’s word to God’s people. You have successfully completed your Presbyter Exam, so we know that you know matters essential and matters important. Frankly, all of that is assumed by now, or we wouldn’t be here this evening.

But, in just a few moments the real Examination will begin. You will stand before a successor of the Apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ in the person of Archbishop Foley; you will stand before the people of God for whom our Lord Jesus shed his blood, those whom he will soon commit to your charge and care; you will stand before angels and archangels and all the company of heaven; you will stand before the throne of God and before the One who sits upon it, and you will be examined.

This examination, this real examination, is not firstly about what you know, but about what you believe — not firstly about your mind, but about your heart. Before all else, the bishop will ask you this:

Do you believe in your heart that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the Canons of this Church, to the Order and ministry of the Priesthood (BCP, p. 490)?

If we are to go forward, you are required to answer, “I do so believe” (ibid, p. 490). It is an awe-filled and audacious answer the Prayer Book demands of you — of any ordinand: I do so believe! Understand this: we believe it of you. Your brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ believe it of you; your discernment committee, your Rector, the Canon to the Ordinary, and Archbishop Foley all believe it of you. For what it’s worth, I believe it of you. Otherwise, we would not be here this evening. But all of that pales before the question addressed solely to you: do you believe in your heart that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ…to the ministry of the Priesthood? From where does such bold belief arise?

Isaiah 6:1–7 (ESV): 6 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

Do you believe in your heart that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the Canons of this Church, to the Order and ministry of the Priesthood (BCP, p. 490)?

The boldness needed to say, “I do so believe,” starts for all of those called where it started for Isaiah: with a clear vision of God enthroned, high and lifted up; with the thundering sound of seraphim proclaiming the utter holiness of the Lord of hosts throughout all the heavens and the earth; with the disorienting shaking of all earthly foundations; with the great clouds of incense that are the prayers of the saints; with the ego-shattering grasp of one’s own unworthiness — one’s own uncleanness — to stand in the presence of the thrice-holy God. “Holy, holy, holy,” and “Woe is me,” are the twin pillars upon which the priestly vocation are founded, the twin revelations that allow you or any ordinand to say, “I do so believe.”

Isaiah’s vision, in all its particulars, is unique to the prophet; it is not a template for all servants of God, not necessarily a paradigm for you. I do not know exactly what you’ve seen and what you’ve heard, Joe, but somewhere and somewhen you found yourself caught up in this great mystery and in this blinding vision: that God, in his holiness, has chosen you, in your unworthiness, to be his fellow worker in the redemption of the world by, in, and through our Lord Jesus Christ. Your vision may have been as seemingly “ordinary” as a growing conviction in prayer or a movement of the Spirit while reading the Scriptures. It may have come through the words of others. The details are between you and God, but you have seen holy things and you have heard holy things and your life can never be the same as before. Cherish that vision; hold fast to it as Isaiah surely did. Keep it ever before your eyes and ever filling your ears. Treasure it and ponder it in your heart just as the Blessed Virgin Mary did with the vision and prophecy that moved her to say: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:30). “I do so believe,” is your fiat, your “let it be done to me according to your word.”

But the vision of God’s holiness given so graciously also imposes upon us the dreadful and unwelcome vision of our own uncleanness: “Woe is me! I am lost! I am a man of unclean lips!” That is you, Joe, and you know it. No one who has seen a vision of God high and lifted up and holy can ever again believe the “I’m OK, You’re OK” drivel that our culture peddles. What self-deluded, devilish nonsense! “You’re Pathetic, I’m Worse” is nearer the truth; it is the truth. Would Isaiah even have survived the vision if not for the grace of God in sending one of the seraphim, one of the “burning ones”, the throne guardian angels singed and flaming from being in the very presence of the thrice-holy God, to touch the prophet’s lips with a live coal from the altar? The boldness for you to say, “I do so believe,” begins with a vision of God high and lifted up and holy, yes, but it continues with the “woe is me” conviction of your own sinfulness. Oh, but — thanks be to God! — that is followed with your cleansing, not by a living coal, but with “the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Pe 1:19). The boldness to say “I do so believe,” begins with the water of baptism, with your death and burial and with your resurrection to new and abundant life in Christ. There is a straight line from the dripping wet, newborn child of God to the ordinand who declares, “I do so believe.” There is a straight line from the oil of chrism used to anoint the newly baptized to the oil of chrism used to anoint the new priest. There is a straight line from the living coal taken from the altar passing through the manger, cross, and empty tomb, plunging through the baptismal font, piercing your heart in a vision of God, and sending you to your knees before the altar and the throne of God this very night as you prepare to say with everything that is in you, “I do so believe.”

Only after — only because of — the two-fold vision of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness, only after — only because of — the purging of the future prophet’s lips, comes the voice of the Lord saying: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us” (Is 6:8)? “I do so believe,” answers Isaiah, “that I am that one.” Those are not the words he said, but that is nonetheless precisely what he said. And you will be asked that same question in a matter of moments, not in those words, but the same question nonetheless.

Do you believe in your heart that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the Canons of this Church, to the Order and ministry of the Priesthood (BCP, p. 490)?

Whom shall I send and who will go for us?

I do so believe. Here am I. Send me.

Vision. Conviction. Purification. Calling. Commission. Isaiah likely had no more notion of what the prophetic vocation would entail than you have understanding of what the priestly vocation will entail. And thanks be to God that is true; you could bear neither the full weight of its burden nor the full weight of its glory if either were revealed all at once. Joe, let the vision of God’s glory sustain you and strengthen you to bear to the burden of the cross that you take upon yourself when you answer, “I do so believe,” and when the priest’s stole is draped around your neck.

This same pattern — vision, conviction, purification, calling, commission — resurfaces in the New Testament: as with prophet, so with apostle. It is Chapter One of St. Paul’s story, in which a persecutor of the Church is knocked off his donkey by the blinding vision of the risen Lord Jesus; in which a voice like thunder addresses Saul, calls him by name, and convicts him of standing in opposition to God; in which that same thunderous voice instructs the now blinded and humbled future apostle to go into Damascus and await further instructions. In that city, at the hands of Ananias, who had had his own vision of the Lord, Saul was purified by baptism, called and commissioned, and shown just how much he must suffer for saying, “I do so believe. Here am I. Send me.” Paul never recovered from that vision. It was the bedrock of his apostolate, the unshakeable foundation of his calling and vocation. We know this, because he recounts it twice more in the book of Acts at crucial moments, recounts it as his apology for a life spent tramping around the Roman world preaching the resurrection of a crucified messiah now become Lord of all. Vision, conviction, purification, calling, commission: as with prophet, so with apostle, and so with priest.

Even as I speak these words to you, I speak them to myself and to all others here who have dared answer a bishop with the words, “I do so believe.” And, I feel the weight — the gravitas — of them pressing down upon me; I hope you do, as well, for that is good and right and proper. It is not insignificant that the Hebrew phrase kabod YHWH translated as the “glory of God” also means the weight or burden of God. C. S. Lewis got it just right — as he so often did — when he wrote and spoke of the “weight of glory.” That describes the blessed burden of the priesthood: the weight of glory.

How are you to stand under that weight? St. Paul, who bore the weight of glory more than most and as well as any, has this word to say to you and to all of us:

Philippians 4:4–5 (ESV): 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.

You are in for unexpected challenges, unanticipated difficulties, surprising conflicts, sleepless nights, and wearisome days. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Did you get that, really get that? Rejoice. Not that Bob thinks your sermons are too long or that Norma is angry that you didn’t return her call within fifteen minutes or that Thomas plays a continual game of one-upsmanship every time you lead a Bible study; not that the world is going to hell in a hand basket and you can’t seem to slow it down; not that the church — at every level — often seems messier than you would like. You are in for unexpected blessings, unanticipated graces, surprising acts of mercy, prayerful nights and holy days. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice. Not just that Thomas hints that he thinks you’re a better preacher than Fr. Daniel; not that Mary is so grateful for your responsiveness to her concerns; not that Bill is amazed by the depth of your knowledge and your gift of teaching; not that, while Athens is a typical secular university town, you are actually making some evangelistic inroads; not that this church, St. Thomas Anglican Church, seems to be prospering under the pastoral leadership of which you will be an integral part. No. Not in any or all of this. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice (in the Lord). You have been called into the mess and muddle, into the grace and glory of the priesthood because God wants you there. And you can rejoice in the Lord because he is with you there in the mess and muddle, with you there in the grace and glory; the Lord is at hand.

So, you need not be anxious about anything. You will be, but you need not be; the Lord is at hand. You are His, and the Church is his, and the kingdom and the power and the glory are all His, and he is with you now and unto the ages of ages. Then, what is there to be anxious about, really? Instead, pray; in everything pray. Prayer is the lifeblood of the priesthood. St. James, the brother of our Lord, reminds us that we do not have because we do not ask (see James 4:2); so, ask. Let your requests be made known to God. And whether you receive what you ask for or not, you will receive “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” and it will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

And remember this:

Philippians 4:8 (ESV): whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Fill your heart, fill your mind, fill your life, fill your vocation with the good, the true, and the beautiful: supremely with our Lord Jesus Christ as revealed in Word and Sacrament and Worship and in his Body, the Church; but also in the love of family and good friends, in good books and good music and good food, in all the legitimate pleasures this God-created world affords; in the temple of Creation: be a fisher of fish as well as a fisher of men; just don’t stretch the length of that trout beyond credibility in your stories and sermons! “The glory of God is a man fully alive,” wrote St. Irenaeus, and a man fully alive is a man fully in Christ, doing the work God has given him to do, rejoicing always, and feasting on the good, the true, and the beautiful. Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, rejoice.

Do you believe in your heart that you are truly called, according to the will of our Lord Jesus Christ, and according to the Canons of this Church, to the Order and ministry of the Priesthood (BCP, p. 490)?

All of us gathered here, long with eager expectation, to hear you say, “I do so believe.”

And now, to the good and faithful people gathered here, to the saints of St. Thomas Anglican Church, though I do not know you, I am emboldened by the Word of God to speak his word to you.

You are being given a gift this evening through the power, mercy, and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who ascended on high, led a host of captives, and gave gifts to men (cf Eph 4:8):

Ephesians 4:11–14 (ESV): And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.

Joe is Christ’s gift to you, the saints in Athens, GA — the saints at St. Thomas Anglican Church. This gift is not a nickknack, not a decorative trinket to sit around collecting dust on some shelf somewhere. This gift is more like a power tool, a gift with a function and purpose. And that purpose is not to do the ministry of the church in your stead, but rather to equip you for the ministry to which you were called in baptism and to which you committed yourself in confirmation. Joe is Christ’s gift to this, His church — His body — to equip you for the work you’ve been given to do, to challenge you and to help you mature in Christ, to reach the full measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, to attain the unity of the faith. So, you, too, were examined tonight with two questions:

Is it your will that Joe be ordained a Priest?

Will you uphold him in this ministry?

You answered, “It is,” and “We will.” Know full well the weight of each answer; know full well what each answer means and what each answer requires of you. God is giving Joe to you and giving you to Joe, because he is the giver of every good gift.

Dare we believe all of this? Yes, we do so believe. Thanks be to God.


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Blessing of a Grave

The Committal was a family affair, held in a small, but very lovely, family cemetery. There were, perhaps, twenty people there including the three priests who were honored to commit our brother’s body to the earth and to the Lord’s keeping. Having completed the opening anthems, I stepped to the grave to bless the ground in which the body of this saint of God would be laid to rest. And, I prayed:

O God, whose blessed Son was laid in a tomb in the garden: Bless, we pray, this grave, set apart for the repose of your servant, that he whose body is buried here may rest from his labors in peace and quietness, until the resurrection on the last day, when the New Jerusalem comes down, the dead are raised, and the righteous are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP 2019, p. 261).

I have prayed this prayer before, blessed graves before; but for some reason, this prayer on this day demanded my attention and has garnered my thought since. What, exactly, is a priest doing when he blesses a grave? What did I think then, and what do I think now, that I was doing?

Based on the prayer itself, we are setting apart the grave as a place of repose for a servant of God. We are announcing to both worlds — seen and unseen — that this is hallowed ground and should be respected as such; the ground should be undisturbed so that the one who reposes there may do so in peace and quietness until the resurrection. If the ground has not been previously blessed, this prayer is, in effect, a minor exorcism of place, a specific instance of St. Anthony’s lesser exorcism:

Alleluia! Behold the cross of the Lord.
Begone, all evil powers.
The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David has conquered.

The blessing of a grave is not different in kind from the blessing of a house or the blessing of place in the service of Compline:

Visit this place, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell with us to preserve us in peace; and let your blessing be upon us always; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP 2019, p. 63).

In fact, with minor changes, the two prayers are essentially interchangeable. At a grave side, a priest might just as well pray:

Visit this ground, O Lord, and drive far from it all snares of the enemy; let your holy angels dwell here to preserve this holy ground and the one who reposes in it in peace; and let your blessing be upon him/her always; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Of all this, I am fairly certain, because it follows directly from the Book of Common Prayer, our Anglican tradition, and Scripture. About what follows, I am less certain. I would not teach it as public faith, but I gladly hold it as private piety.

The Great Tradition of the Church and the experience of the saints bears witness to guardian angels: that each of us — either at birth or at baptism — is graced with an angel to minister to us, to direct us toward salvation, to protect and defend us along the way. I have no reason to doubt that and every reason to believe it.

Collect of Holy Michael and All Angels (BCP 2019, p. 632)
Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth (emphasis added); through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The spirit of my brother who recently fell asleep in the Lord no longer needs the help and defense of his guardian angel; his spirit is with the Lord, beyond all snares of the enemy or troubles of this mortal life. But his body? That reposes in the earth which is still the domain of spiritual warfare. Might it be — and this is speculative theology, at best! — that at the blessing of the grave, the saint’s guardian angel takes his stand there, defending the saint’s body from all spiritual desecration by the evil one, in whatever form that might take? There is this cryptic passage in Jude, after all:

Jude 9 (ESV): 9 But when the archangel Michael, contending with the devil, was disputing about the body of Moses, he did not presume to pronounce a blasphemous judgment, but said, “The Lord rebuke you.”

I would not want to make too much of this; nor would I wish to neglect it.

Simply as a matter of personal piety, it comforts me to think that when the family departs the cemetery the saint’s body is not left alone, but rather remains in the care of the angel who watched over him throughout his life and ushered his spirit safely home. It is an image I can’t quite shake and don’t want to do: an angel standing by the grave — vigilant and awe-full — watching over the saint and worshiping God until the last great day, until the final trumpet, until the dead in Christ arise, until this body of this saint rises.

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The Syrophoenician Woman

Apostles Anglican Church
Fr. John A. Roop

A Matter of Purity: A Reflection on the Syrophoenician Woman
(Mark 7:1-30 and Matthew 15:1-28)

Collect of Purity
Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Peter was speaking specifically of St. Paul’s letters, when he wrote this in his Second Epistle:

There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures (2 Pe 3:16b, ESV).

Amen: some parts of St. Paul’s writing and thinking are complex and challenging and even confusing. It takes careful and prolonged study of the whole of his corpus to begin to understand his vision of the victory of God in the person and work of Jesus, of how that victory is implemented in the life and work of the Church, of how Israel and the nations — the Gentiles — are made one new people in the Kingdom of God, and how their unity is a signpost pointing to the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God.

And, it’s not just St. Paul; the whole of Scripture is challenging, as anyone who has really read it knows. The idea that a person who has no prior knowledge of the Christian faith could take up a Bible, read it front to back, and make good sense of it does not make good sense itself. Some parts will be crystal clear, of course. But some other parts, many of them, will be as opaque as coal. This is one reason the Church insists on the importance of the public reading of Scripture. It is the communal reading and proclamation and preaching and study that provide a context in which the accumulated wisdom of the Church can unveil the true sense of the Scripture.

I mention this because we encounter a difficult and challenging passage in our Gospel reading this afternoon, one which is easily misconstrued, and one which is often twisted by those outside the church and even used by those inside the church to support their own agendas. This passage requires careful reading and a thorough understanding of Jesus’ mission. I am speaking of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman who sought healing for her demon possessed daughter. Let’s hear the text again.

Mark 7:24–30 (ESV): 24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

How does this story strike you? A desperate woman comes to Jesus, falls at his feet, and begs him to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon. And how does Jesus respond? It seems that he rebuffs her, rudely dismisses her as a dog amidst Jewish children, as one who has no claim on him and no reason to expect a favorable answer. On the surface, that seems cold, heartless, a bit xenophobic — some might say racist: not the image of Jesus that rings most true to most of us. So, what’s going on in this confusing and challenging passage?

Context matters. Both Mark and Matthew place this encounter immediately following a dispute with the Pharisees and scribes over the nature of purity

Mark 7:1-8, 14-22 (ESV): 7 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“ ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Purity is not determined externally: unwashed hands and cutlery, what type of food is consumed, that sort of thing. No, purity is internal, a matter of the heart. How do you recognize whether one is pure or impure? Look at what proceeds from his heart; evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander are signs of impurity. If this is the measure, then on several counts the Pharisees and scribes do not fare very well. On the purity scale, they may not be grubby, but they are at best unkempt and a bit smelly.

We know now the measure of impurity, but what of purity? What are the marks of a pure heart? Jesus doesn’t answer that implied question in so many words. Instead, he travels immediately to Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile region, an unclean place full of unclean people. And it is there that he encounters — it is there he is accosted by — a Canaanite woman, a Syrophoenician. Remember that Israel has a long history with the Canaanites, and that that history was not good. There was plenty of ancient enmity and distrust to go around, not to mention — but we must mention — that the Canaanites were almost the definition of impurity to the Jews. We see that in the disciples response to the crying of this woman for mercy: “Send her away, for she is crying out after us” (Mt 15:23b). It is not that her request is outrageous. It is simply that it is outrageous for such an impure Gentile woman to make any request at all from a Jewish rabbi.

Jesus answers her as the Pharisees and scribes, as his own disciples might have done, had they bothered to answer at all: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” (Mk 7:27). In one sense, Jesus is merely — and rightly — pointing out that his mission was not to everyone, but only to the Jews. He had come to fulfill the Covenant, the Law, and the Prophets, to bring the story of Israel to its proper conclusion, to initiate a new covenant for all people, and to inaugurate the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ mission was to the Jews so that through the Jews the Gospel might come to all families, languages, peoples and nations. “Let the children be fed first.”

But, in another sense, Jesus is upholding the standard Jewish notions of purity — children versus dogs — just long enough to let it crumble under the weight of the Gospel: “…it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The disciples must have been pleased with this answer; they likely expected the woman to slink away, properly chastised. Oh, but she was a good and fierce mother, determined to do all in her power to provide healing for her daughter. And probably still on her knees, probably through tears, she responds: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table,” (Mt 15:27). What a dense statement this is — full of meaning. First, she calls Jesus “Lord,” acknowledging his superiority and her inferiority. She embraces this demeaning slur of “dog” and acknowledges that the Jews are children and masters. And she asks not for a choice portion of food from the table; she will be satisfied with scraps and with crumbs that fall forgotten to the floor.

And now Jesus responds, not as the Pharisees and scribes would have done, not as his own disciples urged him to do, but as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire,” (Mt 15:28a).

And this is the answer — this woman, this impure, Gentile woman is the answer — to the questions left hanging in the previous encounter with the Pharisees and scribes: What of purity? What of the marks of a pure heart? Love, in this case the reckless, indefatigable love of a mother for her daughter. Humility, in this case the willingness to embrace the status of inferiority. Faith, in this case the willingness to place all her trust, all her hope, in Jesus. That is what comes from her heart. And that is what marks her out as pure before God.

So, taken together, these two stories define the notion of purity in radical contrast to the understanding of Jesus’ culture. The Pharisees, the separate one, who kept most scrupulously the Law of Moses according to the traditions of the elders were revealed as impure before God because of the filth kept housed in the recesses of their hearts. The Syrophoenician woman, the Gentile woman, who was disdained and dismissed by Jesus’ own disciples, was revealed as pure before God because of the love, humility, and faith that flowed outward from her heart.

It took generations for the Church to come to grips with this radical notion, and perhaps we’ve not done so fully even now. “Oh, yes,” the Church said, “we suppose the Gospel can be extended to the Gentiles — if we must do — but only if they first become Jews.” St. Paul begged to differ. The Gospel is for the Gentiles as Gentiles, he insisted, and for all people — all people — who call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and live according to his commandments:

Romans 10:12–13 (ESV): 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Whatever else the story of the Syrophoenician woman means — and it is a rich, multivalent story — it means at least this: purity before God is a matter of the heart, a matter of love, humility, and faith. This story and this meaning form the heart of one of the most dearly loved and well-known Anglican prayers, The Prayer of Humble Access, which we say immediately before receiving the Body and Blood of Christ:

We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up
the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord
whose character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to earth the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Those words turn Scripture into prayer; they capture the encounter between the Syrophoenician Woman and Jesus perfectly and then offer the woman to us as a model for our Eucharistic life: humility and trust on her part, righteousness and mercy on God’s part.

Yes purity before God is a matter of the heart, a matter of love, humility, and faith. So sure, wash your hands and clean your knives and forks. But, more importantly, purify your heart. Amen.

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Jannes, Jambres, and the Stories We Tell

Jannes, Jambres and the Stories We Tell: A Reflection on 2 Timothy 3

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).

O Lord, open our lips;
And our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Amen.

This morning, I exercise the preacher’s prerogative to extend the lectionary reading a bit. You have heard the latter part of 2 Timothy 3; but, that text stands on and flows from the former part of the chapter that we did not read. Its fullest sense depends on the contrast it draws to what went before: not that, but this. So, we have the former words.

2 Timothy 3:1–9 (ESV): 3 But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

In the last days, Paul writes, there will come times of difficulty. This is less a prophecy about those years and months and days immediately preceding the Second Coming of our Lord — whenever that may be — as it is an observation about the times through which Paul and Timothy were then living, as it is an observation about the times in which you and I are now living. The death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus marked the end of one age and the beginning of a new age: the last days. The Church always has lived and the Church always will live in the last days. And, in the last days, there will always come times of difficulty, characterized by people who oppose the truth, who are corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. You heard Paul’s description of these people; we don’t need to rehearse it yet again, because you know these people, because you live and work and play among these people, because this is a picture not just of first century pagan culture but also of twenty-first century post-modern Western culture — a culture that has rejected God and godliness.

Paul likens these “last days” people to Jannes and Jambres who opposed Moses. From Jewish sources — from the Talmud — we learn that Jannes and Jambres were the chief magicians of Pharaoh, those who, for a time, imitated the signs and wonders that Moses and Aaron worked before Pharaoh and even the plagues God brought upon Egypt.

Exodus 7:8–13 (ESV): 8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’ ” 10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

Jannes and Jambres, chief of the sorcerers of Egypt. And know this: they thought that their opposition of Moses and Aaron was good and right and proper. Why? Because they had been raised on and formed by the story of Egypt: the story that spoke of — the story that assured them of — the manifest destiny of Egypt and Pharaoh and the gods, the divine right of Egypt to conquer, the divine right of Pharaoh to rule, the divine right of the gods to be served and worshipped. It belonged to the Hebrews to be Egypt’s slaves. It belonged to the Hebrews’ god to be humiliated and dismissed by the pantheon of Egypt in the persons of Jannes and Jambres and a company of sorcerers. It belonged to the Hebrews’ leaders, Moses and Aaron, to be destroyed by Pharaoh. This was the story that Jannes and Jambres had been told, and the story they were inhabiting.

The notion of self-made man or self-made woman is so much foolishness then, now, and always. We are made by the stories we are told, by the stories we inhabit, by the stories we believe and act upon. So it was with Jannes and Jambres; so it was with our fathers and mothers, so it is with us, so it will be with our children.

The story that Jannes and Jambres learned on their mothers’ laps, the story they breathed and drank in simply by being Egyptian, the story they practiced and mastered under the tutelage of their mentors in the mystic arts — these stories workedfor awhile, worked until they didn’t work any longer. They worked until the seventh plague, until the boils came:

Exodus 9:11 (ESV): 11 And the magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils came upon the magicians and upon all the Egyptians.

And Jannes and Jambres watched Egypt brought to its knees by the Hebrews. Jannes and Jambres watched Pharaoh humbled before two former slaves. Jannes and Jambres watched their gods — their impotent, little, no-gods-at-all — brought low before the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Jannes and Jambres watched as their story unraveled before them as the great cultural lie it was.

So, Paul writes to Timothy:

8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men [these last days men] also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. 9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.

And now — only now — are we ready for today’s text:

2 Timothy 3:10–13 (ESV): 10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

You, however: you, Timothy, are not like Jannes and Jambres, not like the “last days” men all around you in Ephesus. You are not opposed to the truth, not corrupted in mind, not disqualified regarding the faith. Why? Because you have heard, you have believed, you have inhabited, you have acted upon a different story. Timothy had been formed by the story, by the Gospel, of the Lord Jesus Christ that he heard first from his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice, the story in which he was confirmed by the laying on of Paul’s hands and the gift of God, the story he had witnessed firsthand in the life of the apostle: a life of patience, love, steadfastness, persecution, and suffering — a life of all godliness. This is a story that does not fail because it is the one true story of the one true God redeeming one true people for himself. The world — evil people and imposters — will go from bad to worse because the story they have been told, the story they tell themselves, is false and dehumanizing and demonic. But you, Timothy, and you, my brothers and sisters, you may go from one degree of glory to another — if you choose — by holding fast to the story of Jesus.

2 Timothy 3:14–17 (ESV): 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

Where do we learn this true story? Please God, from our godly grandmothers and grandfathers, from our mothers and fathers in the flesh and in the faith, from our elder brothers and sisters in the Way. We learn the true story in the community of the Church — in the body of Christ — in worship and prayer and service. Yes to all of that, and thanks be to God for it! But here, in this his final letter, Paul points his son Timothy toward the “sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). Where do we learn the story? From the Scriptures which narrate the true story from the creation of all things by Christ and for Christ to the recapitulation of all things in Christ. That, brothers and sisters, is our story.

Now, I am going to get myself into trouble. So, pay attention; you don’t want to miss this. If we have been formed more by the story of the United States of America than by the story of Israel and the Church, then we are living by the wrong story. If we can sing more Top 40 hits — if the Top 40 chart is still a thing — than we can sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, then we are living by the wrong story. If our concept of justice has been shaped more by the Constitution than by the Law, the prophets, the Sermon on the Mount, and the two great commandments, then we are living by the wrong story. If we are influenced more by social media influencers or the Kardashians or the rich and famous of Hollywood or CNN or Fox News or one of the political parties or some ideological demagogue than we are by the saints — by the Fathers and Mothers of the faith — then we are living by the wrong story. If our schedules, our priorities, our spending is more determined by the demands, priorities, and values of a world that does not know and acknowledge our Lord Jesus than by the reality of the Kingdom of God, then we are living by the wrong story. And all of us, brothers and sisters — myself chief among us — all of us here and there, now and then are living by the wrong story. And all of us, brothers and sisters — myself chief among us — all of us need to repent whenever, wherever, and however that is true: repent today, repent tomorrow, repent every day that God grants us life and breath. And we need to come again and again and yet again to the sacred writings which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. For,

2 Timothy 3:16–17 (ESV): 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just those passages highlighted and underlined in our Bibles, not just those passages that comfort us and make us feel good about God and ourselves, not just those passages that vindicate our opinions and agendas, not just those passages that are ever so interesting to us. The purpose of Scripture is not to satisfy our curiosity, not to indulge our questions, not to bless our inordinate desires, but rather to form us into the people of God, into a kingdom of priests — holy and faithful men and women. Back in the dark ages of my public school education at Lonsdale Elementary and Rule High schools, we were taught history — world, American, and Tennessee history — yes, and civics and economics, too, not simply to inform us, but rather to form us according to the values of this people to whom we belong so that we might effectively take our place in this nation as patriotic, productive, and responsible citizens. The texts we read, the parts of the founding documents we memorized, were the tools that the state-sponsored, state-mandated, and state-funded educational system wielded to shape us. But, as good as they might have been, they were not breathed out by God. They were not always profitable for reproof, for correction, or for training in righteousness except in the limited domain of American citizenship — not a bad thing, but not an ultimate concern. To become citizens, immigrants must pass a rigorous test on these same topics — history and civics — a test that probably few of us could pass without studying. It is a first step of formation, of drawing people out of one story into another story, a step of formation in which the government has a vested interest. And that, too, is what Scripture does. No matter from whence you’ve come, no matter who you were, this story — the story of Scripture — is your story now. This is who you are. This is your people. This is your God.

Scripture makes us into one, new people. Scripture fits us for life in the Kingdom of God, by reproof, correction, and training in righteousness. That is a sobering thought; if we read Scripture and are not on a regular basis reproved by it, corrected by it, trained in righteousness by it, then either we are already perfect or else we are not really reading Scripture. I am not yet perfect, as those who love me most and know me best remind me. I am a work in progress, God’s work in progress. So, like Timothy, I need the God-breathed Scripture to reprove me, to correct me, to make me complete, to equip me for every good work. We all do, don’t we?

We need this transformational power of Scripture not only for our own sakes, but for the sake of the world, a world full of diminished, disorienting, delusional, destructive, demonic, dead-end stories — stories like those that formed Jannes and Jambres. The word of God — Scripture — is intensely personal, but it is never private. It is certainly for us in the Church, but it must also be through us to the world.

2 Timothy 4:1–5 (ESV): 4 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Some are called by God and ordained by the church to be preachers of the word, authorized to reprove, rebuke, and exhort publicly and privately — always with patience and sound teaching. I am duty bound, by sacred vow before God and the church, to do this, as are all ordained clergy in the Anglican Church. Woe to me if I do not do. But evangelism? That is no proprietary domain of the clergy. You are duty bound, by sacred vow before God and the church, to do this, in season and out of season, as are all baptized believers. You are called to be an evangelist, all of you. Perhaps the simplest way to do this is to immerse yourself in Word and Sacrament until you are formed by the story these two tell and then to go into the world, your world — your school, your office, your team, your club, your reading group, your local coffee shop — and there live out the story genuinely, unpretentiously, unashamedly. Then, when people see the fruit of this different story, when they ask why you are not fearful but rather have a spirit of power and of love and of self-control, then you can answer, then you can speak the word that you have read on the pages of Scripture, that you have heard preached and taught, and so fulfill your ministry as evangelist.

As I bring this homily to a close, I want to say that this was not what I wanted to write or preach. This was the text I was given, and I’ve tried to be faithful to it; ultimately God will judge that. No, I really wanted to write and to speak a love letter to the book that is God’s love letter to us, to Holy Scripture. I wanted to move you to such aching longing for the word of God that you couldn’t wait to get home and read it for yourself, to find your delight in the word of the Lord. I wanted to stoke your wonder at the great treasure that we have in ink on paper: a word written by the God who called all creation into being by his word spoken, a word written by the God who became the word incarnate to redeem you and all the world, a word written by God and carried on the breath — the Spirit — of God to sanctify his people. The Word was, the Word is, the Word ever shall be, and we have this great treasure written in a language we understand, at a price we can afford, in a country that still allows us to have it and read it. I am a Christian because the story in this book makes better sense of the world and my experience of it and myself than any competing story ever told. I am a Christian because the story in this book is good and true and beautiful and can still, after all these years, perhaps because of all these years, make me weep with joy and make my heart ache with longing. That is the homily I wanted to give you this morning, but I just don’t have the words. Thanks be to God, the Scriptures do. Amen.

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What If?

What if? The Daily Office confronts us today with the great mystery of Christ’s passion in Gethsemane and with his abandonment in that moment by his closest followers (see Mt 26:31-56). At their arrival on the Mount of Olives, Jesus had warned them all that he, the shepherd, would be stuck down, and that they, the sheep of the flock, would be scattered. With his wonted bravado, Peter declared that he would never fall away, even if it meant his death, though all the others might do. And all the rest said the same.

The group arrived at Gethsemane and Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a secluded place so that they all might pray. Jesus’ words to the three were simple: “Remain here, and watch with me.”

After anguished prayer, Jesus returned to find the three asleep. To Peter he said:

“So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt 26:40b-41, RSV).

This sad scenario is repeated three times: Jesus praying in agony and the three sleeping in disregard.

What if? What if Peter had watched and prayed, not just for Jesus, but for himself that he might not enter into temptation? Would he then, just hours later, have denied the Lord before the rooster’s crow? We will never know, because he did not watch and pray. And because he did not, he failed the Lord in the moment of decision. What if?

What if I watch and pray: that I will not fall into temptation, that my spirit would be willing and my flesh strong, that God’s will — not mine — be done, that those I love might love the Lord, that the Church — and my local parish — might be a place where the Word is truly preached and truly heard and the Sacraments faithfully administered and faithfully received, that the Holy Spirit would ignite in us — in me — a zealous love of the Gospel and a heart for evangelism? What if? I will never know if I do not pray. But what if I do?

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Finishing Well: Session 3 – Hitting the Wall

Apostles Anglican Church
Fr. John A. Roop

Finishing Well: Session Three — Hitting the Wall

The Lord be with you.
And with your spirit.

Let us pray.

Almighty God, you have given us the treasure of the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ, a treasure we hold in jars of clay: Grant us never to lose heart amidst our afflictions, our perplexity, and our weakness for Jesus’ sake, but rather ever to look to you that your grace my increase our faith and thanksgiving; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, world without end. Amen.

Introduction: Limitations and Freedom
As I get older, I find the words “used to” entering my conversations more frequently. I “used to” be in this or that profession, but now I am retired. I “used to” enjoy this or that hobby, but I gave those up some time ago. I used to clean the shower drain after washing my hair, but there’s not much need to do that any longer.

There is the tendency for those who see themselves as elderly or getting older to also see life in the past tense, “used to” instead of “am” or “planning to.” And, realistically, age does impose some limitations. In my 20s, I was a good swimmer. Now, in my mid 60s with two bad rotator cuffs, that just isn’t an option; my body won’t let me do that. Mentally, I used to — See how those words creep in? — I used to multi-task well, but now, to be effective, I must focus more intentionally on the single task at hand. The litany could continue, but you understand: “used to.”

Now, here’s a challenge. Can you complete the sentence, “I used to,” in a positive way?
Yes, there are some positive ways to complete “used to,” as well. When I was younger, I used to worry a lot about a lot of “problems” that I now realize weren’t problems at all — just minor inconveniences. Age has given me some perspective about what is important and about what isn’t. I “used to” have a lot of time ahead of me — time to waste. Now that the time ahead is shorter, I savor the moments; I tend to invest time instead of wasting it, and that is a good thing. I used to act impulsively and often with too little information and wisdom. Now, I have a lifetime of experience to inform my thinking and my decisions, and I believe my judgment is better than before.

The elderly may think in terms of past tense and “used to,” about current limitations instead of present opportunities and future hopes. But not the elders: elders are informed by the past. They are enriched by it. But, they are not bound by it. They are not continually living in it. Elders acknowledge certain physical and mental limitations of age, but they also find in these limitations certain opportunities and even freedoms. Where the elderly sometimes see burdens, the elders can perceive blessings.

To return to the race analogy, the point is straightforward: the race is not over until we cross the finish line. Age brings with it both limitations and opportunities, burdens and blessings, both of which God uses for our good, and both of which we are to use for his glory and for the welfare of his people. I have seen the unfortunate tendency in some churches for one generation to retire, to step back, sit down and say, “Well, we’ve done our work, our share. Now it’s time for the next generation to step up and do theirs.” Speaking frankly, that is a selfish refusal to be the elders the church needs. But, it can go the other way also. The younger generation can discount and push aside the very elders whose practical and spiritual wisdom, counsel, and mentoring they desperately need. That is a refusal to learn from the saints of God, and a squandering of a treasure that God has deposited in the Church. We pray to avoid both of these errors.

But, if looking backward, if living a nostalgic “used to be” life is a problem, so is looking forward in fear of what may await us: diminishment in body and mind. In what may be the latter stages of the race, how do we look forward in hope in the midst of likely decline? Good theology and good practice point toward the answers. So, we move now to some essential theology.

Biblical Personhood
God identified himself to Moses as I Am (Ex 3:13 ff), the very essence of being and personhood. We, too, use the pronoun I to refer to our personhood. It is worth asking, though, in the human case: To what does this I actually refer?

The meaning of I depends very much on what follows it in any sentence. For example, “I need a shower,” means that my body is dirty and needs attention. “I am hungry,” means my belly is empty and needs filling. “I like running on the beach,” means that my body enjoys the act and the results of physical exercise, and that my bodily senses — sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell — are pleasantly stimulated by the environment of the beach. In all these cases, and in many more that we could list, I refers primarily to the person as body, to the physical faculties of personhood. We might call this aspect of personhood body.

Body is that aspect of personhood that pertains to the physical nature.

But, I has other meanings, also. “I think…” refers to the mind, to the rational part of the person. “I am very happy,” pertains to emotions. “I feel so guilty,” is an acknowledgment of the conscience. “I refuse,” is an act of the will. None of these uses of I pertains primarily to the body. Instead, we might call this aspect of personhood soul.

Soul is that aspect of personhood that pertains to reason, emotions, conscience, and will.

Though it is helpful to distinguish between body and soul, they are unified in the person. That is, the person is not a body with a soul, nor is the soul the “life force” imprisoned in a body. The person is an integrated body-soul. To treat a person as just a body — as does pornography, for example — debases the person. Likewise, to treat a person as just a soul ignores the essential incarnation of the person. We can easily see the unity of the person in such statements as “I love my wife (or husband).” A survey of the rite of Holy Matrimony — or a reflection on lived experienced — clearly shows that the body, the mind, the emotions, the conscience, and the will are all included in that statement. The love between spouses is a whole person to whole person relationship. When any aspect of personhood is missing in a marriage, there is a deficit in the relationship, sometimes such a serious deficit that divorce ensues.

So, have we now fully defined I — the person — as the unity of body and soul? No, not yet fully, not in the Christian understanding of personhood. Consider the statement “I know God.” To what does I refer here? Do we know God in and through the body? Certainly we do, for the body participates in worship; that is essential to sacramental worship. Do we know God in and through the soul? Yes; reason, emotions, conscience, and will are all fully engaged in the knowledge of God. But, there is more. There is one more faculty that is essential for the knowledge of God, a faculty without which no such knowledge is possible: the spirit. An extended passage from 1 Corinthians makes this clear:

9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—

10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:9-16, ESV).

God makes himself known to us spiritually: his Holy Spirit giving life and revelation and understanding to the human spirit. Our cognitive understanding of God is the mind’s effort to construct a mental summary of spiritual revelation and experience. Our bodily impressions of God is the body’s response to spiritual revelation and experience.

The spirit is that faculty of the person which can know, experience, and contemplate God directly, unmediated by — and unhindered by — the body and soul. It is the spirit which should rightly order both body and soul as the king rightly orders his kingdom.

The Christian understanding of I — of personhood — must include the holistic union of body, soul, and spirit.

The whole person participates in the experience and knowledge of God: the spirit most directly. Then, the spirit rightly mediates the experience and knowledge of God to the mind and the body. If the human spirit has not been made regenerate (born again) by the Holy Spirit, then the mind cannot rightly understand God nor can the body rightly experience and worship God (cf John 14:15-17; 16:12-15).

Any one who has lived any time at all has bumped up hard against entropy: the tendency toward chaos, the winding down and wearing out of all things. Paul tells us it was not always so:

Romans 8:19–22 (ESV): For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

John promises it will not always be so:

Revelation 21:1–4 (ESV): Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

But, my experience, and I dare say yours as well, says it is so now; all creation is subject to entropy, and that includes us. In life and in the race of faith, we get tired, we pull muscles, we sprain ankles, we hit the wall.

As an Anglican priest, I provide such pastoral care as I can to those who labor under the burden of entropy. Often this means supporting parishioners who are caring for aging family members. Sometimes it means walking beside those who are experiencing their own physical or mental decline. The practical difficulties are many: providing or finding proper in-home care, locating a reputable and affordable residential facility when that time comes, managing troublesome symptoms and behaviors. I am no expert on these practical matters; others are often better able to assist. The community of the Church and of clinical and social service professionals is needed.

But, in addition to these practical struggles, there is frequently the emotional and spiritual battle against hopelessness as the condition deteriorates day by day: the loss of autonomy, the sense of futility, the long goodbye, a sense of guilt. There is the issue of meaning: what significance does a life in physical and/or mental decline have — my own life or that of a loved one? Is it worth living any longer? Where is God in the midst of this? These are theological questions, and the wisdom of the Church — not my wisdom, but the wisdom of the Church — speaks to them, offering hope in decline.

This is the wisdom of the Church: that outward disability or decline — physical and/or mental — may actually be the context for great inward, spiritual growth; it certainly does not hinder such growth.

For the Christian, this is akin to the mystery of Holy Saturday. There was real loss on Good Friday; Jesus had been crucified and his body was lying dead in a tomb, the ultimate expression of human entropy. Yet, in spirit, he was trampling down Death by death, breaking the bonds of hell, setting the prisoners free, and preparing for a glorious resurrection: all hidden, all unseen except through the eyes of faith. Here is the question that presents us: Can we believe that a similar hidden mystery is unfolding in the life of a loved one with advancing dementia or in the spirit of a comatose patient or in the inner recesses of a severely mentally handicapped person? Can we be convinced that this is true even in the absence of any visible evidence? I am convinced; it is a matter of faith attested to clearly in Scripture.

In several of his books, Henri Nouwen recounts how the severely physically and mentally disabled residents of Daybreak, a L’Arche community founded by Jean Vanier, became his spiritual mentors. Nouwen saw, with the eyes of faith, what many could not see: that the Spirit is not hindered by human frailty, and that great saints who are in continual, hidden Communion with God may also be bedridden and need their diapers changed.

How can we understand this? Baptism — as is so often the case — is the place to start.

Baptism: Body, Mind, and Spirit
When the church baptizes an infant, it acknowledge that a relationship with God doesn’t depend necessarily on the state of one’s body or mind; baptism is an outward and visible sign, in word and water, of an inward and spiritual grace. It is primarily and essentially an act of God in which we receive his grace. An infant is capable of only the most basic bodily functions and lacks language necessary for complex mental processing. But from the moment of baptism the new child of God has an intimate relationship with the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit, even though that relationship may not be experienced by the body and almost certainly isn’t perceived by the mind. It is a relationship between God’s Spirit and the human spirit (cf Article XXVII. Of Baptism).

This is one of the most important proclamations of infant baptism; God is at work, beyond our understanding, relating to us and transforming us.

Ideally, the body and mind grow to participate more fully in this relationship throughout life, but not always. Developmental difficulty, accident, or illness may limit physical and mental participation. But these do not hinder the essential spiritual relationship, which is hidden and ongoing, and which transcends both body and mind.

Inner and Outer Self
This sacramental understanding has important pastoral implications not just for infant baptism, but also for those in advanced states of physical or mental decline and for their families. It offers a way forward into and through the difficult questions that face every pastoral caregiver — whether priest, family member, or friend — in every nursing home, rehab unit, Alzheimer’s facility, and hospice room. It offers the Gospel amidst physical and/or mental decline, the Gospel which is good news not just for the world to come but for the world here and now. Paul expresses it this way:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Cor 4:16-18, ESV throughout).

When the outer self — body and mind — is wasting away, the good news concerns the inner self — the spirit — which is being renewed day by day. When the human mind is too diminished to engage the world, the Christian hope — and by hope I do not mean wish or pipe dream, but rather the firm conviction of faith — the Christian hope is that our spirit prays – and the Holy Spirit prays – though the mind is unfruitful:

Romans 8:26–27 (ESV): Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

We can see only the body, which might be functionally disabled by injury, ravaged with disease or lying in a coma. We can sense that the mind is no longer clear. Ever since Descartes’ cogito ergo sum — I think, therefore I am — we have tended to falsely equate the person with the mind – a mind that might be cognitively idle or perhaps wandering in long forgotten or even imagined pathways. But in the midst of impaired bodies and minds, our sacramental faith assures us that the spirit is alive and engaged with God in mysterious and holy ways to which we are not privy. Though often hidden from external witnesses, the Holy Spirit ministers to the human spirit, prayer ascends, worship proceeds, and inner renewal is a reality. So even this state of diminished physical and mental life is holy and precious. All of life, from conception to natural death is holy and precious because the Spirit is at work in ways we cannot always perceive and, at best, can only dimly imagine.

An Example from Scripture
We can see the distinction between the inner and outer person in Luke’s account of the Visitation.

39 In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:39-45).

The baby in Elizabeth’s womb is John, who will be known as the Baptist or the Forerunner of our Lord, and who, even from before birth, heralds the Lord. Notice that even in the womb — before cognitive thought has developed, before language, before a full range of emotions — John recognizes Jesus and responds with a leap (body) and with joy (emotions/mind). How is this possible? It is the action of the Holy Spirit revealing truth to both John’s and Elizabeth’s spirits. Especially in John’s case, this is an example of spiritual knowledge (revelation) received independently of body and spirit — given directly from the Holy Spirit to the human spirit. John would later grow in both body and mind and use both in the service of the Lord. But, from the very beginning, his spirit exercised his vocation of heralding the Lord. His spirit recognized his Lord even from before birth.

What does this mean for one in decline, or for those who care for loved ones in decline? It means that we have every reason to hope and to believe that even in the midst of increasing bodily frailty and cognitive loss, God is still present and at work with the person’s spirit. We may — rightly — mourn the decline of body and mind, but we need not and should not doubt that the spirit is being nourished by God and transformed into the likeness of Christ. What we see with our eyes is only the outer part of the person, the part which may be in decline. But the inner part of the person, the spirit, may be moving from one degree of glory to another.

This is our Christian hope in the midst of bodily and mental decline: precisely that the inner self, the spirit, is being renewed day by day though the transient body and mind are fading away for the moment. At the resurrection there will be a new body, imperishable and immortal, enlivened by the spirit transformed by God’s grace into the likeness of Christ.

In the meantime we hold fast to and rejoice in this word from St. Paul:

Romans 8:35–39 (ESV): 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What can separate us from the from the love of Christ? Shall advancing age, increasing limitations, physical or mental decline? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Personal Note: Preparing for the Harvest
As a priest, I visit memory care facilities to provide pastoral care to parishioners experiencing the advancing symptoms of dementia. I remember taking Holy Communion to such a dear saint. Before the Eucharist we simply visited for awhile talking about anything and nothing at all. Sometimes my sister was lucid, and sometimes she was not. During our talk she was in many different places and times. As much as I enjoyed our visit, I mourned that the part of her that I could know and relate to — body and soul — was declining. But I rejoiced that God was at work in her spirit, that she communed directly with her Creator and Redeemer, unhindered by failing body and soul, that her life still had eternal meaning and purpose even in the midst of outward decline. Approaching that mystery is like standing on holy ground.

When I prepared the hospital tray table as altar and began to celebrate Holy Eucharist, my dear sister became fully present in body, soul, and spirit. She boldly said the Lord’s Prayer. She said the priests’ words along with me because she had heard them so often and knew them so well. She held out her hands to receive the Body of Christ and eagerly drank from the small chalice containing his Blood of the new covenant. She made the sign of the cross. She could do these things because she had done them for years, for the whole of her long life.

I have seen this in other circumstances, when a group from our parish holds a service in a local residential care facility, for example. Residents in advanced stages of dementia and largely non-verbal nevertheless sing the old hymns with us and say the familiar Scriptures with us (e.g. John 3:16, Psalm 23) or at least recognize them and acknowledge them with a smile or a nod.

These saints are reaping in their old age what they sowed in their youth. They are harvesting in the midst of decline what they planted in their strength.

The Preacher, the son of David, instructs us (Eccles 12:1-8):

1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them” (Eccles 12:1).

Some degree of diminishment of body and mind will come to us all, if we live long enough. How may we prepare for it, so that we receive it, too, as God’s grace? By spending a life remembering our Creator: engaging with such spiritual disciplines as worship, prayer, study and reflection upon Scripture will yield an abundant inner harvest even in the midst of outer decline.

A Note for Caregivers
What are the implications for pastoral care — from priest, family, or friends — in the midst of decline? We must act on and model what we believe. We must treat the saint in decline as a saint, as someone who is in deep and ongoing spiritual relationship with God, regardless of the outward state of mind or body. We must respect what God is doing at every stage in life, and we must do what we can, also. We can pray for and with our brother or sister. We can sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. We can read Scripture aloud even if others assure us that our brother cannot hear us or no longer understands what is said. We must share Christ’s body and blood with our sister, if she is able to receive them. And, as much as anything, we must simply show up to witness, to marvel at, and to honor the glorious, sometimes hidden, work of God in the lives of his saints; the ministry of presence is a powerful witness to the Gospel. And we must not despair at what has been lost, but instead rejoice in the unseen work that God is still doing to perfect the saint in front of us.

Fall and Renewal
Physical and mental decline are truly signs of the fall. Yet, even in the midst of such decline, the one baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is inwardly nourished and spiritually renewed in hidden and holy ways. This is our hope and our faith.

Let us pray.

Most loving Father, you will us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on the One who cares for us. Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested unto us in your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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St. Francis of Assisi

Francis of Assisi (c. 1181 – 4 October 1226)
Fr. John A. Roop
(Galatians 6:14-18, Psalm 148:7-14, Matthew 11:25-30)

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation, with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

St. Francis once was living at the Convent of the Portiuncula, with Brother Masseo of Marignano, a man of great sanctity and great discernment, who held frequent converse with God; for that reason St. Francis loved him much. One day, as St. Francis was returning from the forest, where he had been in prayer, Brother Masseo, wishing to test the humility of the saint, went to meet him exclaiming: “Why after you? Why after you?” To which St. Francis answered: “What is this? What do you mean?” Brother Masseo answered: “I mean, why is it that all the world goes after you; why do all men wish to see you, to hear you, and to obey your word? For you are neither handsome nor learned, nor are you of noble birth. How is it, then, that all the world goes after you?”

St. Francis, hearing these words, rejoiced greatly in spirit, and lifting up his eyes to heaven, remained for a long time with his mind rapt in God; then, coming to himself, he knelt down, returning thanks to God with great fervor of spirit, and addressing Brother Masseo, said to him: “Would you know why all men come after me? Know that it is because the Lord, who is in heaven, who sees the evil and the good in all places — because, I say, his holy eyes have found among men no one more wicked, more imperfect, or a greater sinner than I am; and to accomplish the wonderful work he intends to do, he has found no creature more vile than I am on earth; for that reason he has chosen me, to confound all strength, beauty, greatness, noble birth, and all the sciences of the world, that men may learn that every virtue and every good gift comes from him, and not from any creature, that none may glory before him; but if any one glory, let him glory in the Lord, to whom belongs all glory in eternity.”

Then Brother Masseo, at such a humble answer, given with so much fervor, was greatly impressed, and learned with certainty that St. Francis was well grounded in humility (Brother Ugolino, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi).

With the possible exceptions of St. Mary and St. Nicholas, there is likely no more widely and deeply revered saint than Francis of Assisi. And like his companion Masseo, it is reasonable for us to wonder why. Externally, there was little to commend him. He was the spoiled son of an Italian cloth merchant at just that point in history when the merchant class was on the ascendancy both in wealth and political influence. Francis was the leader of a local gang of young men in Assisi, those given to mischief and drinking and romantic exploits. He wasted his time and his father’s money with these adolescent adventures. He had visions of the glories and honor of chivalry and tried to earn a knighthood in battle with the nearby rival city of Perugia. Instead, he was captured and imprisoned, a sobering turn of events that likely began the deep self-examination that led Francis to his conversion. It didn’t happen all at once, but over months and years, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone — his birth name — died, and Francis of Assisi — St. Francis — was born again.

Even then, there was little to commend him. While contemplating the cross in the tumbled-down local church of San Damiano, Francis received a vision — heard a voice saying: “Francis, go and rebuild my church which, as you see, is falling down.” Even here, Francis misunderstood the heavenly voice and thought it had something to do with carpentry and construction: refurbish this abandoned church at San Damiano. He did, and in the process gained some followers. But, the Lord intended more.

Francis embraced a radical form of spirituality centered around three vows: poverty, chastity, and obedience. It is hard to see these as particularly attractive, but, by the grace of God they were, and a group of dedicated men formed around Francis, a group which became an official order in the Church, the fratres minores — the friars minor, the little brothers. And this group did, indeed, rebuild the Church that was falling down. This little group did change the world. And Francis, Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, became Saint Francis of Assisi.

There are many good and sound theological definitions of a saint. I’m partial to this very imprecise — but quite true — description: A saint is a fool for Christ that everyone admires and that no one want to imitate. How true that is about Francis. The world loves him. The world admires, even reveres him. But few choose to imitate him as he really was, not as we re-create him to be — some gentle, animal-loving, tree-hugging, peace-promoting flower child, left wing radical. There is an element of truth in that description, but, taken in isolation it distorts the true nature of the saint. He was a faithful son of the Church who expressed his vocation through Gospel poverty, chastity, and obedience. Apart from those three vows, it is impossible to truly understand Francis. So, it is to those vows we turn.

As a young man, Francis was formed by the notion of chivalry, of a knight’s devotion to a lady. This relationship between knight and lady was one of chaste love in which the knight pledged himself to the honor and defense of his lady, a relationship in which he would risk anything, suffer anything in order to serve his lady. Francis’ patroness, his love, was Lady Poverty.

And why? Because when Jesus came among us he came not in riches but in poverty. Francis saw poverty as the way to follow the King of glory because Jesus himself chose poverty. For Francis, Jesus was the model in everything, the one to be imitated in everything. If Jesus were poor, then Francis and his followers would choose poverty.

He felt so strongly about this that the Friars Minor were prohibited from even touching money. They worked to provide for their needs when possible and begged when no work was available, but they accepted no money as wages or alms, only food and other material goods like clothing. Francis lived at a transition period in history when money was vying with titles in determining what a man was and what opportunities he had; Francis’ time was the rise of the merchant class. And Francis knew — perhaps by family experience — that money had a way of transforming itself into mammon, the idol and god of wealth, and transforming its owners into idol worshippers. Better to honor Lady Poverty and to follow her way to the Lord.

That attitude, the willing embrace of poverty, is counter cultural wherever and whenever it appears, in Francis’ twelfth century Umbria or in our twenty-first century Knoxville. While Jesus repeatedly warned of the dangers of wealth, he did not generally advocate absolute poverty for all. Neither has the Church. Neither did Francis. Francis depended upon wealthy patrons to support his ministry. But his way — not everyone’s way — but his was was the way of poverty.

Is there anything we can learn from Francis about wealth and poverty? Yes, I think so, and it comes by way of the Third Order Franciscans, lay people who follow the way of Francis while still living in the world: working in their professions, serving their families, taking their places in their communities and in the church. Their vows replace the vow of poverty with the vow of simplicity. They possess money, but they resist being possessed by money. They practice contentment with what they have while resisting the siren call of the new, the better, the fancier, the more impressive. They do not hoard goods; instead they give generously.

This goes against the grain of our consumer culture that tempts us to build meaning and identity around what we own. But the new thing we just had to have today becomes the old thing we wouldn’t be caught dead with tomorrow. Paradoxically, simplicity is more deeply satisfying than is satisfying every material desire. We have a lot to learn from Francis’ devotion to Lady Poverty.

Francis was not always devoted to chastity. If the stories about his youth are correct, his romantic and sexual escapades were the stuff of juicy gossip in Assisi. But all that changed with his conversion; the Friars Minor were expected to be chaste, which for them meant celibate.

Most of us are not called to be celibate. Some are, and it is a holy calling and a gift from God for the good of the Church. Celibates can teach us much about agapē, about holy love. Celibates love and love deeply, but they do not love possessively; there is no sense of ownership in their love. That means they can love the other precisely as other, not for their own benefit but for the benefit of the other, always willing the good of the other. And, holy celibates, those who are celibate as a calling from God, can teach us about rightly ordered love. Because they love God supremely, they are free to love all men subordinately. Celibacy is to be honored among us, not dismissed or diminished as unfortunate and — please God — temporary.

While celibacy is not for everyone, chastity is. Chastity is rightly ordered love within relationships. If single, chastity is expressed by celibacy. If married, chastity is expressed by fidelity. But chastity involves much more than just rightly ordered sexual relations. Chastity is a matter of the heart — the spiritual center of a person — as much as it is a matter of the body. It was this type of chastity that Jesus taught about in the Sermon on the Mount:

Matthew 5:27–30 (ESV): 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Lust is a violation of chastity. Failure to guard the eyes is a violation of chastity. Pornography is a violation of chastity, and one that is epidemic in our society. Any base, impure thought, word, or deed is a violation of chastity. It takes firm commitment and strenuous spiritual discipline to keep a vow of chastity, but, like Francis, it is that to which we are called.

In my ordination to the diaconate and the priesthood, I was required to publicly subscribe to the Oath of Canonical Obedience:

And I do promise, here in the presence of Almighty God and of the Church, that I will pay true and canonical obedience in all things lawful and honest to the Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, and his successors, so help me God (BCP 2019, p. 485).

That was a sobering moment and act, because obedience does not come naturally to me. I have since found it to be a great blessing, but it is an acquired taste.

Francis was an obedient son of the Church. And, this is where many people misunderstand Francis. They want to extract him from his place in the church and make him spiritual but not religious, a saint for believers and atheists alike. But, that won’t do. Francis was a faithful Roman Catholic who obeyed his hierarchy from pope to bishop to parish priest, because he found in them the righty and duly authorized representatives of Christ.

Francis was absolutely obedient to Jesus as revealed in the Church and in Scripture. It has been said about Francis that for him, the Bible was not so much a book to be read as a script to be acted out. Why did Francis really embrace Gospel poverty? Because he read Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler as a commandment to himself, and he obeyed. Can you imagine living that way, or at least more nearly that way? What if we actually took the Sermon on the Mount as the script for our lives and determined to be obedient to it? What would change in your life, in my life? That was the nature of Francis’ obedience.

Why You?
Masseo asked, “Why you, Francis?” His question reminds me of some comments I heard about Queen Elizabeth II following her death. One of her former Royal Chaplains, Gavin Ashenden, tried to explain why everyone seemed to love her, even those who have no use for the monarchy. He said that most people were drawn to a kindly, old lady who loved dogs and horses, who smiled and waved to everyone, who dressed in bright colors and always carried a handbag, who served faithfully for over seven decades. But, Ashenden went further. What they were really drawn to — though most didn’t know it, he said — was the fruit of the Spirit that she bore in her life. She loved the Lord Jesus and cultivated a life of Christian virtue. And that attracted people.

So, why Francis? Not because he loved animals and all nature, not because he preached and practiced peace, not because he cared for the poor, but rather because he loved Jesus above all else, because he disciplined himself to follow Jesus by embracing poverty, chastity, and obedience, because he exemplified the Christian virtues and bore the fruit of the Spirit. And people were and are and always will be attracted to that. That is among the most important lessons we can learn from Francis: the best evangelists are not those who know the most about Jesus and the faith, but those who most love Jesus and practice obedience to him.

May the Lord bless you.
May the Lord keep you.
May He show His face to you and have mercy.
May He turn to you His countenance and give you peace.
The Lord bless you.

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Finishing Well: Session 2 — Disciplines


About midway through the race, the veteran runner noticed a novice in front of him begin to falter. His breathing was irregular and labored; his steps lacked rhythm. Eventually, he stumbled off the course and fell to the ground where he lay exhausted.

After the veteran finished the race in quite a respectable time, he jogged back to where he had last seen the novice, to check on him and to provide him some encouragement. The novice was sitting up now, but still defeated in body, mind, and spirit by the race.

As the two runners talked, the veteran eventually asked the novice about his training regimen, about how he had prepared for this race. The novice admitted that he had never run before and that he had done no training. He had recently watched the track and field events on the Olympics coverage and had become inspired to run, though he never got around to running. He had even read a couple of books on the sport and bought an expensive pair of running shoes. He had registered for the race, showed up, laced on the shoes, and responded to the starter’s pistol along with the crowd. And he had died midway through the race.

I wonder if anything like this ever really happens? Is anyone really foolish enough to enter a grueling race without training? And if he does so, does he really expect to finish well, or even to finish at all?

Let’s look at a related scenario; in this one I’ll give a real and personal example. Some thirty-five years ago, I studied and practiced karate, usually five days a week, two or three hours each session. I was a black belt — as was my wife who was/is much more dangerous than I ever was! — and I was an instructor. Fast forward to today. Now, I have a black belt; it is hanging in my closet. But, I no longer am a black belt. I have not kept up the disciplined practice necessary to retain those skills I once had. I am still very dangerous, but mainly to myself; I would certainly hurt myself if I tried some of the techniques I took for granted three decades ago.

At the heart of both of these examples lies the issue of identity. The novice runner pretended to an identity he did not actually have. In my case, I have relinquished an identity that I once had through lack of discipline.

Training to finish well

In our first session we discussed the importance of identity, of knowing whose we are and of letting that identity given to us in baptism — and not by our culture and not by ourselves — letting that identity given to us in baptism determine who we are, how we live, and how we run the race of faith. In this session we will focus on the development of that identity. Baptism is birth; now we must grow. Or, to keep with our race analogy, baptism, and the identity it bestows on us, qualifies us for the race and gets us to the starting line. But it is practice — disciplined training — that gets us to the finish line. The early Christians and the Desert Fathers had a name for this disciplined training: askesis, asceticism. We often think of an ascetic as a gaunt, haggard, worn-out someone suffering from too little sleep and too little food, someone weakened by abuse of the body. But that is not the Christian way at all. A Christian ascetic is someone who has devoted himself or herself to those disciplines and practices designed to strengthen one for the race of faith. These are the champion runners and ultimately the elders of the faith. What does their training, their askesis, look like?

We have spoken about spiritual elders, about those who are finishing the race well. You may be blessed to know some of these saints. Some of you are among them, the spiritual elders here at Apostles, though you are likely too humble to think of yourselves in that way. We have had several here who have now gone on before us, and we have several still with us. I’d like you to think about an elder or elders you have know. Or, if you have not known one personally, think about your image, your vision, of a spiritual elder.

What are the spiritual characteristics of these elders that set them apart, that mark them as elders?

This is what we want to look like when we grow up, what we need to look like to finish well. They haven’t developed these characteristics automatically or accidentally or without effort. This is the result of disciplined training of body, mind, and spirit — training that is motivated and empowered by the Holy Spirit. So now we need to ask:

What kind of practice/training produces this kind of person, the kind of person who is finishing the race well?

Before we try to answer than, before we look at these training disciplines, we may need a word of theological clarification is needed, especially for those who might be concerned about works righteousness. These disciplines are not works we do to acquire or ensure salvation. Nor are they primarily our works. Paul writes this to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 2:8–10 (ESV): For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

And this to the Philippians:

Philippians 2:12–13 (ESV): Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Taking these texts together, Paul says that salvation is a gift of the Lord, by grace through faith. But, the gift is intended to produce good works (cf James) — works which the Lord himself has established. It is through these works that we work out (express, develop, and mature) our salvation. Even the will to do these works and the power to accomplish them is from the Lord. So, while there is no room for laziness or negligence in our spiritual efforts, there is also no room for pride in our spiritual disciplines, no concept of earning God’s favor. Article XIV. OF WORKS OF SUPEREROGATION, makes this explicit:

Voluntary Works besides, over, and above, God’s Commandments, which they call Works of SUPEREROGATION, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounded duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you say, We are unprofitable servants.

We do not make God beholden to us by our spiritual disciplines and training. But through our spiritual disciplines and training, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling: according to the will of God, empowered by the Spirit of God, to the glory of God.

Now, we know our identity given to us in baptism. We also have a vision of spiritual eldership. Further, God has given us the desire to work this vision out in our own lives, and he will certainly empower us to do so. The question remains: How do we work this out so that we might mature in our baptismal identity, grow into spiritual eldership, and finish the race well?

What kind of practice/training produces this kind of person, the kind of person who is finishing the race well?

Though Scripture is filled with answers to this question, three passages seem particularly clear, succinct, and helpful for our discussion.

Philippians 4:4–9 (ESV): 4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. 5 Let your reasonableness [Note: gentleness is a better translation than reasonableness.] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

Colossians 3:1–17 (ESV): 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Ephesians 5:15–21 (ESV): 15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

What are the imperatives, the training regimen for the face of faith, contained in these texts?

Philippians 4:4-9

• Rejoice (always)

• Pray (in everything) with thanksgiving

• Think on good things

• Practice imitating the saints

Colossians 3:1-17

Seek the things above (live as a citizen of heaven and prioritize heavenly things)

Put off immorality, impurity, passions, evil desire, and covetousness

Put on compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and LOVE

Dwell in the Word, and let it dwell in you

Sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs

Give thanks (in all things)

Ephesians 5:15-21

Use time wisely

Seek the Lord’s will

Practice mutual submission

Though it doesn’t appear specifically in these passages, there is one other discipline/practice that runs throughout Scripture and fills every page of St. John’s Revelation — in some sense the most important practice: worship. The truth is simple: we become like that which we worship.

All of these things should be part of a rule of life for all Christians, but certainly for those who are training to finish the race well. As a practical starting point, we should conform our lives to the Duties of the Laity expressed in the ACNA Constitution and Canons; this forms a fundamental rule of life on which we can build.


If we want to finish well, we must train properly; we must discipline our bodies, minds, and spirits. There are certainly other important disciplines that we have not mentioned or said much about: fasting, silence, service, alms-giving, for example. But the ones we have mentioned are enough for a lifetime of work. Two things remain, and they fall both to you individually and to us as the Body of Christ: (1) to work out, with fear and trembling, what these disciplines must look like in our given situations, and (2) to begin. It is never too late to begin; it is never too late to begin again.

The French novelist Leon Bloy wrote this:

“The only real sadness, the only real failure, the only great tragedy in life, is not to become a saint.”

As I get older, I think about that more than ever, and I am more than ever convinced that it is true. Becoming a saint is a matter of dual agency between God and man. Another French novelist, Emile Zola, expressed that truth in this quote about artists:

“The artist is nothing without the gift, but the gift if nothing without work.”

I cannot be a saint without the gift of God’s grace, but I will not be a great saint — an elder — without the disciplined work of the Spirit with which I participate.

Let us pray.

Go before us, O Lord, in all our doings with your most gracious favor, and further us with your continual help; that in all our works begun, continued, and ended in you, we may glorify your holy Name, and finally, through your mercy, obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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