Spiritual Death

Something we don’t always like to talk about, as Christians, is spiritual death, damnation, the second death, etc.  It’s not very exciting, it doesn’t sound positive, and most of us today have a cultural abhorrence of the prospect of scaring someone into believing the Gospel.  After all, the Gospel is good news, it should be a message of joy and relief, not of fearful doom and gloom.

But of course, the existence of “good news” presupposes a situation of bad news.  And that’s what spiritual death is.  I recently came across a quote from Philoxenus of Mabbug, a Syrian Christian from the late 400’s and early 500’s.  He was known as something of a controversialist in his day, particularly as the fourth ecumenical council slammed down, causing the Oriental Orthodox Christians to begin to separate from the rest of Church.  Nevertheless, Philoxenus was a respected bishop and scholar who translated much of the Bible into Syriac and wrote a great deal of practical devotional material that has been valued by his supporters and critics alike.  In one of his sermons, he wrote:

Anyone who is assiduous in reading the Word of God but does not put it into practice would be bound to hear himself accused by the reading itself.  So he would necessarily deserve an even more serious condemnation for despising and dishonoring what he was reading every day.  Sadly he is like a dead person, like a soulless corpse.

Even if a thousand trumpets were to sound in the ears of the dead, they would never hear them.  That is how it is with a soul that is dead in sin, a soul that has lost all memory of God, a soul that never thinks of God all day: it does not hear the sound of the Word that is calling it.  The trumpet of the Word does not wake it.  It is sunk in the sleep of death and this sleep is pleasant to it.

Being a dead soul, it is not conscious of its state and is not moved to ask for life.  It is like one who has died of natural causes, or who on the level of practical obedience to the Word of God has committed suicide.  It does not suffer as a result of its death and the idea of asking for a return to life does not enter its head.

The soul is dead when it never thinks of God, when it has lost all memory of God.  Its powers of discernment are dead.  Its desires for the things of heaven are dead.  Its nature is alive, but its will is dead and its freedom has disappeared.

This forms an apt description of what is called the doctrine of Total Depravity – the sad reality that we human beings are so dead in our sin that nothing in our entire being is left unaffected.  Without God’s intervention we are dead, we’re “not conscious” of our condition and therefore are never “moved to ask for life.”  That is, we don’t have the ability even to ask Christ to save us, much less choose Christ as our Lord and Savior.

This is an important reminder for us today because the way we often talk about salvation and evangelism makes it sound as though that all we have to do is present the good news of Jesus Christ to an unbeliever and challenge them to make a choice.  This is an unbiblical oversimplification; there is more going on behind the scenes that we all-too-easily overlook.  No one comes to Jesus unless he or she is first drawn by the Father.  This is because we are dead in our sins, and need the intervention of God’s grace in order to recognize our condition and believe in Jesus and be saved.

Now, a Calvinist will explain that this happens by the decree of God the Father in eternity past, is made possible by the atonement of Christ on the Cross, and brought about by the work of the Holy Spirit on the person to be saved.  Meanwhile an Arminian will explain that this happens by God’s initiative of granting prevenient grace.  In either case, the human being starts out in a condition of utter death and helplessness without God taking the first step.

Additionally, this also helps to explain the often-uncomfortable reality of hell and damnation.  We are all spiritually dead to begin with.  Unless we are moved to new life, we stay spiritually dead.  God doesn’t have to “send” anyone to hell on Judgement Day, they’ll in effect already be there.  So as we go about our teaching and preaching concerning salvation, and our work of evangelization, we should remember the reality of spiritual death and pray earnestly that God will go before us in all our doings, and that His Spirit will enable others to see and respond to Him.  For, as a thousand trumpets cannot wake the dead, neither can a thousand evangelists convert the non-Christian.  It is the work of God, through and through, so that none may boast in his own works, but in the grace of God.

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Saved by the King

This is my sermon upon Christ the King Sunday, 22 November 2015, for Grace Anglican Church.

Jesus is the savior of the world. Normally, when we hear this, we think of His sacrifice on the Cross. Jesus took on the office of High Priest and offered up a payment for the sin of the world. This is our great focus around Easter, in both its lead-up and its following season: Jesus is our great High Priest through whom we are saved. But now, as we transition into the season of Advent, we are drawn to another office (or role) that Jesus takes on: the King of kings and Lord of lords.

You see, the Cross was more than the sacrificial altar, which, paired with the resurrection, atones for the sin of the world, but also a throne, which, paired with the ascension to the right hand of the Father, establishes a new King and Kingdom. The “prince of this world” is no longer Satan. When the Devil tempted Jesus with the offer of rulership over all nations, Jesus said no; he knew he was destined for that rulership via the Cross, not via the Devil’s shortcut.

On the Cross, and proven by his descent among the dead, resurrection to bodily life, and ascension into heaven, Jesus became the King of All Creation, known in Greek by one of the coolest-sounding titles you’ll ever hear: the Pantokrator. Panto means ‘all,’ and krator is ruler. One of the most classic icons of Jesus is called the Kyrie Pantokrator, the Lord & Ruler of All. It is also the standard image found inside the top of the dome of Orthodox church buildings over the sanctuary where the altar is located.


There he is, the Word of God, holding the word of God.

Anyway, just like his priesthood and sacrifice, so too does his kingship and rule save us. The phrase “savior of the world” is not just a priestly title, as we often think of it; it’s also political. In the first century, the Caesars were often referred to as “Savior.” Even to this day, political leaders use similar language to describe their administration or their campaign platform. So when we proclaim Christ as Savior, we’re making both a religious and a political statement: the ultimate hope, the perfect change, the thing our world most needs, is Jesus enthroned as King.

To dig in to how Christ as King saves us, let’s turn to the epistle reading, Colossians 1:13-20.

Verse 13

God has delivered us. Another way of putting this is to say that God rescued us. He has rescued us from the domain of darkness. This domain or dominion of darkness comes from the word εξουσίας which is also means ‘authority.’ It’s where we get the word ‘exorcism.’ Jesus has authority to cast out demons. So to say we’ve been delivered or rescued from the authority of the darkness, it shows that without God we are literally ruled over by evil and wickedness. That is the life of sin. And that is what God in Christ rescues us from! Paul mentions this again in chapter 2, saying God “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).

His rescuing us is just the beginning of his triumph, however. Next, verse 13 says that God has transferred us. He has moved us from being ruled over by darkness and evil to a new location: the Kingdom of his beloved Son. Since we’ve been delivered and transferred, but aren’t entirely there yet, what does that make us? We are exiles, foreigners, aliens, sojourners, pilgrims, refugees! Throughout history God has been impressing this aspect of faithful living upon his people. Christianity is a pilgrimage, the Israelites were wanderers and refugees and exiles for much of the time before Christ. Since the beginning God has been trying to get it into our heads that we have a better homeland awaiting us, and that we ought to be looking ahead to his promises and not get completely caught up in merely what we see.

Verse 14

The “redemption of sins” hints at Jesus’ priestly office. On the Cross he redeemed us, he bought us back. A payment was made so that we could be removed from the temporary Kingdom of Satan and brought into the eternal Kingdom of God. Our sins had to be redeemed in order for this to happen, though. “Why doesn’t God just rescue everyone?” people often question us. This is why: our sins make us unworthy to enter into the Kingdom of God. Our sins make us worthy only of the Kingdom of Satan, and the fact that we continue sinning even if we want to do good is an indication that we are still serving the darkness. Our sins have to be redeemed in order for us to leave the Kingdom of darkness. And only Jesus’ payment on the Cross is enough to redeem us. Anywhere else we look to justify ourselves and erase our sins will come up short.

Verse 15

Verses 15 through 20 form a sort of a hymn, sometimes called the Canticle of Supremacy, referring to the supremacy of Jesus over creation. As we look at this, notice how the first three verses declare Jesus as supreme over the Old Creation, and the last three declare Jesus as supreme over the New Creation.

Right off the bat, “the Firstborn of all creation” is a phrase that is terribly misunderstood by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. They, and other heretics throughout Church history, made the fatal error of taking this to mean that the Son of God is a created being. This is quite wrong. The Nicene Creed hammers home the correction: Jesus is “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father.” As this very verse says, he is the image of the invisible God. When people look at Jesus, they were looking at God. When Jesus was born as a man, yes, his human nature was part of creation, but God the Son is co-existent and co-eternal with God the Father. There was never a time when God the Son did not exist.

To describe Jesus as “the firstborn of all creation” is to highlight his status within creation. The firstborn is the heir. The firstborn gets the highest honor in the family. So even though God the Son became a human just like you and I, he is privileged above us all. We, God’s people, consider ourselves children of God, but that is through adoption; Jesus is elder to us, and so he alone rules over us.

Verse 16

Creation “through” Christ indicates it’s the work of the whole Trinity. To point out the false teachings of Gnostics in the early days and Jehovah’s Witnesses today, there have been claims that God the Father created the Word (the Son, Jesus) who in turn then went and created the physical universe. This scheme distances God from creation, setting up a false dualism to say that spiritual existence is good and physical existence is bad. No, creation was worked through Christ. That means that the Father and the Holy Spirit also worked with the Son to create the universe.

Creation “for” Christ indicates that within the Trinity, God the Son was specifically destined to enter into the creation and reign from within. From the start, perhaps even before sin entered into the picture, it was in God’s heart to join us in his own creation so that we could live together in complete and perfect harmony and communion forever. Sin has delayed this reality, but ultimately this is what God plans to bring about, and what we look forward to in Christ’s return.

Verse 17

He is before all things. Think about what Jesus said about himself one time: “before Abraham was, I am.” Paul is doing much the same thing here: “before all things were, He is.” Jesus, as God the Son, has always existed. This puts him on an entirely different level than creation. And yet, there is a connection between his existence and creation’s existence. The other half of this verse says “in him all things hold together.” This is the plain and simple truth that God not only created all things, but sustains all things. One farmer sows seeds, another waters, “but God gives the growth.”

Verse 18

Now we move to the part of the hymn proclaiming Jesus’ supremacy over the New Creation. Verse 18 begins this theme with four descriptions of Jesus.

Jesus is the head. We begin with the concept of headship. The whole Church comes from him, submits to him, is governed by him, and sustained by him.

Jesus is the beginning. The New Creation, the Church, is made starting with the work of Jesus, just as the Old Creation was made starting with the work of Jesus. In both cases, as St. John wrote, “in the beginning was the Word.”

Jesus is the firstborn from the dead. From the midst of creation, nothing and no one has ever risen from death to eternal life. The Bible records that a few people were resurrected, but they still grew old and died again. Jesus is the first to be resurrected unto eternal life. Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again! But he’s only the firstborn, a demonstration of a resurrection that we can all look forward to.

Jesus has preeminence. The fact that Jesus really and truly died, and returned to life, is very important for recognizing the scope of his kingship. He is not just the king of heaven, and the king of earth, but also the king of Sheol (or Hades or Hell). He’s been there, he proclaimed the Gospel to the dead, announcing the establishment of his long-awaited kingdom. Living or dead, all are subject to him; he is preeminent over everyone and everything.

Verse 19

The fullness of God dwells in Christ. This statement is also rich with meaning. It proclaims that Jesus is fully God, not a demigod, not half-man-half-god, but completely and truly God. Because of that, it means that we don’t need to invoke other beings or other things in order to get to God. We don’t need to worship an assortment of idols, we don’t need to pay homage to angels or invoke the patronage of saints to get enough divinity around us. Christ, the man, is God. No other intermediary between us and God is needed; he’s got the fullness, the whole deal.

Verse 20

Reconciliation is through Christ. Just as the fullness of God meant that Jesus is the perfect link between divinity and humanity, so too does it mean that perfect reconciliation between God and mankind is in Jesus. Only one human ever lived in perfect harmony with God: Jesus. He is the one human who was always on God’s side. Therefore he is the perfect mediator to settle the differences between God and the rest of us. If you want to get on God’s good side, submit to the mediator, Jesus Christ; he is the way and the truth and the life.

Finally, peace comes by the blood of the Cross. Let’s go back to those two kingdoms we were talking about before: the Kingdom of Darkness and the Kingdom of God. There is a war between them; Satan declared war on God and dragged us in on his side. By nature, we’re caught on the wrong side, the losing side, fighting a futile battle against God. What’s more, a decisive battle has been fought and won by God: when Jesus died on the Cross he triumphed over Satan. Satan, it seems, thought that by killing Jesus he would forever defeat God and rule this world forever. But instead he let God into his private lair, Sheol (or Hades or Hell), allowing God to rescue his people from death itself! It’s like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, when Aslan got into the White Witch’s castle and started restoring her stone prisoners to life; Jesus went to death, and turned it into a paradise.

But this victory over death happened through death itself. Jesus trampled death by death. And so Paul wrote here that peace comes by the blood of the Cross. Again, we are to look to Christ and his sacrifice and his victory on the Cross as the source of our salvation.

The Gospel of Christ the King

So, as I said at the beginning, Jesus is the Savior of the world. As this hymn in Colossians 1 describes, Jesus was uniquely capable of becoming the Savior; in fact he was destined for it from the very start. As I mentioned last week, he brings full absolution and perfect hæl. But even that isn’t quite enough. How frustrating would it be to be perfectly holy and healthy and yet still be surrounded by a world that continues its war against God? The kingship of Jesus gives the final piece of the picture here. Not only do we, as people, each personally benefit from the saving work of Christ, but the entire creation will be renewed and restored to its rightful king, Jesus, God the Son. There will be “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.” And, if I might edit that classic Christmas hymn to fit today’s message, “Joyful, all ye nations, rise, join the triumph of the skies; With th’ angelic host proclaim, ‘Christ was born in Bethlehem.’ Hark! the herald angels sing, ‘Glory to the returning King!’”

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Preparing for Doomsday

Let’s start with a little known fact: doomsday actually is Old English. ‘Doom’ means judgment, either of innocence or of guilt, so doomsday is the day of judgment, not meant to be only a negative image like we paint it today. One of the most famous teachings about doomsday in the Bible was written by St. Paul:

 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

This quote is a well-known description of the end of the age. A lot of American Christians associate this with an odd interpretation of Scripture called the Rapture, which is the idea that God snatches away all of the Christians out of the world to be with him in heaven. In actuality, Paul is describing much the opposite sort of event: this is about the return of Christ. On that final second advent of Christ, those who have already “fallen asleep” will rise from death and we also will be “caught up” to meet Jesus. That is, to greet him, to welcome him back to earth. This is not a stealing away of God’s people into safety, this is a triumphal procession of a conquering King!

A similar event took place during Jesus’ earthly ministry when he went to Jerusalem for the last time.

 The large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” 14 And Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, just as it is written, “Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your king is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt!” – John 12:12-15

Notice that the people come out of Jerusalem to meet Jesus, just like Paul describes in 1 Thessalonians. This is a common trope in ancient literature and practice: a king arrives at a city that he has newly conquered or laid claim to, and his loyal subjects come out to greet him and join the procession as he enters the city.

Also, another fun-fact is that this (well, the Gospel of Matthew’s version) is the traditional Gospel reading for the beginning of Advent. Advent, as you may know, is a season focused on the second coming of Christ, using his first as an example. As we look forward to Christmas and the celebration of his arrival as a baby, we are spurred on to look forward to Doomsday and his second arrival as the King.

The application of all this that I want you to ponder is the part where the people were spreading palm branches and cloaks and garments on the ground as Jesus rode up to Jerusalem. When Christ returns, what will you have to offer him?

There could be any number of possibilities. Your offering might be people you’ve discipled, children you’ve raised in the faith, ministries you supported, or good deeds done to the “least of these.” Whatever they might be, these are the things that we should be prioritizing in order to prepare for doomsday.

It’s worth pointing out here that our salvation doesn’t depend on it – there must’ve been poor people in Jerusalem welcoming Jesus with nothing but shouts of “hosanna!” Nevertheless, there will be a great parade and party, and we’ll want to participate as heartily and extravagantly as we can! After all, the day of doom for an honestly professing Christian will be over quickly and have a happy ending. “Well done, good and faithful servant,” is the judgment we are looking forward to. It’s just all the sweeter to hear if we actually have worked toward that day in anticipation. How are you preparing for that day?

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Advice from the Saints: The Lord’s Prayer

The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that “contains the fullness of perfection.”

The ‘Our Father’ is a short formula, a model prayer.  It does not contain requests for riches, or any suggestion of honors sought.  There are no demands for authority or power.  There is no mention of the health of the body nor of temporal life.  The Architect of eternity does not want us to ask for anything fleeting, and it would be an insult to his generosity to neglect the riches of eternal life and ask for something transitory instead.  Such baseness of mind would earn the wrath rather than the favor of the Judge.

The ‘Our Father’ contains all the fullness of perfection, inasmuch as the Lord himself has given it to us, both as a model and also as a precept.  Those who are familiar with this prayer are raised by it to a very lofty condition, namely that ‘prayer of fire’ which very few know by direct experience and which it is impossible to describe.

The ‘prayer of fire’ transcends all human feeling.  There are no longer sounds of the voice nor movements of the tongue nor articulated words.  The soul is completely imbued with divine light.  Human language, always inadequate, is no use any more.  But in the soul is a spring bubbling over, and prayer gushing out from it leaps up to God.  The soul expresses in a single instant many things which could only be described or remembered with difficulty when it has returned to its normal condition.

Our Lord has traced an outline of this mystical state in this formula, the ‘Our Father’ that contains various supplications, and also in the hours he spent alone on the mountain side, and in the silent prayer of his agony in the moment when he even sweated blood through the unique intensity of his unity with the Father.

– St. John Cassian, Conferences 9:24ff

Our Father…

Anyone with a bit of good sense would not make so bold as to call God by the name of Father until he had come to be like him.

It is impossible for God who is goodness in his very being to be father to someone of evil will.  It is impossible for the Holy One to be father of a depraved person.  It is impossible for the Giver of life to have as a child one whose sin has subjected him to death.

So if one of us, in examining himself, discovers that his conscience is covered in mud and needs to be cleansed, he cannot allow himself such familiarity with God.  First he must be purified.

Then why, in this prayer of his, does the Lord Jesus teach us to call God by the name of Father?  I suppose that, in suggesting this word, he is only putting before our eyes the holiest life as the criterion of our behavior.

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Lord’s Prayer, 2.

…Who art in heaven…

These words I think have a very deep meaning.  They remind us of the homeland we have abandoned, of the citizenship we have lost.

In the parable of the young man who left his father’s house, went off the rails and was reduced to living with pigs, the Word of God shows us human wretchedness.  That young man did not find his one-time happiness again until he had realized his moral degradation, had looked into his own heart and had pronounced the words of confession.  These words almost agree with the Lord’s Prayer, because the prodigal son says: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you’ [Luke 15:21].

He would not confess himself to be a sinner against heaven if he were not convinced that the homeland he had left at the time of his going astray were not in actual fact heaven.

By this confession of his, he makes himself worthy once again to stand in the presence of his father who runs toward him, embraces him, and kisses him.

The conclusion is this.  To return to heaven there is only one route and that is to admit one’s sinfulness and seek to avoid it.  To make the decision to avoid it is already to be perfecting one’s likeness to God.

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Lord’s Prayer, 2.

… hallowed be thy Name.

What is the meaning of the words ‘name’ and ‘hallow’?

‘Name’ denotes the proper and exclusive nature of the being that carries it and indicates the general effect of its qualities.  In human beings these qualities can change, and with them their names too.  Abram came to be called Abraham, Simon became Peter, and Saul’s name was changed to Paul.  By contrast in the case of God who is immutable, who never changes, there is but one name, the ‘I Am’ that was given him in Exodus [3:14].  We all endeavor to reflect on God to understand his nature, but they are few indeed that succeed in sensing his holiness.

Jesus’ prayer teaches us that God is holy.  It helps us to discover the holiness of the Being that creates, provides, judges, chooses and abounds in generosity, welcomes and rejects, rewards and punishes equally.  This is what characterizes the quality that belongs to God, the quality that the Scriptures call by the name of God.

Therefore in the Scriptures we read: ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain’ [Exodus 20:7] and again: ‘May my teaching drop as the rain, my speech distill as the dew, as the gentle rain upon the tender grass, and as the showers upon the herb, for I will proclaim the name of the Lord’ [Deuteronomy 32:2].

Anyone who prays ought therefore to ask that the name of God may be hallowed, as is said also in the Psalms: ‘let us exalt his name together’ [34:3].  The Psalmist hopes that we may arrive, in harmony of spirit, at a true understanding of the nature of God.

– Origen, On Prayer, 24:1.

Thy kingdom come.

‘The kingdom of God is within us,’ that is, on our lips and in our hearts [Luke 17:21].  Therefore anyone who prays that the kingdom of God may not delay its coming is praying that it may be consolidated, extended, and reach its fullness within him.  Our Lord in fact dwells in all holy people who recognize God as their king and obey his spiritual laws.  The Father is present in the perfect soul and Christ reigns together with the Father, according to his own actual word ‘If someone loves me… we will come to him and make our home with him’ [John 14:23].

The kingdom will not reach its fullness in each of us until wisdom and the other virtues are perfected in us.  Perfection is reached at the end of a journey, so we ought to be ‘forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead’ [Philippians 3:13].

In other words, on the one hand the believer is a tireless traveler and on the other hand the kingdom of God will reach its completion in us only when the words of the Apostle are fulfilled: ‘When he has subjected all things, Christ will deliver up the kingdom to the Father, that God may be all in all’ [1 Corinthians 15:24-28].

Let us subdue our members to produce the fruits of the Spirit.  Then the Lord will walk with us as in a spiritual paradise.  He alone will reign in us, together with Christ.  And we shall already possess the benefits of the new birth and of the resurrection.

– Origen, On Prayer, 25.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We who are praying are still on earth ourselves.  And since we reckon that all the inhabitants of heaven fulfill the will of God in heaven, it comes naturally to us to ask that we too on earth should succeed in fulfilling the divine will.  That will come about, logically, if we do nothing outside that will.

When we have perfectly accomplished it, although we are still remaining on earth we shall be like the heavenly beings and will bear equally with them the image of the heavenly Being [1 Corinthians 15:49].

In the end we shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.  Those who come to take our place on earth will ask that they too may become like us who are then in heaven.

In addition it is recorded that our Lord after his resurrection said to the eleven Apostles: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ [Matthew 28:18].  Jesus claimed in short to have received authority on earth equal to that which he has in heaven.  The things of heaven, at the beginning, have been illuminated by the Word.  And at the end of time, thanks to the authority granted to the Son of God, the things of earth will be like those of heaven which is already perfect.

So then it is clear that Christ is calling his disciples to work faithfully with him by means of their prayers.  That all earthly events may come to be transformed by the authority that Christ has received both in heaven and on earth, this ought to be our prayer.

– Origen, On Prayer, 26.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Bread represents life, and bread is easy to get.  Moreover, nature herself gives us something to put on it to make it more tasty.  The best thing to eat with bread is the peace of a good conscience.  Then the bread is eaten with gusto, because it is being eaten in holiness of life.

But if you want to experience the taste of bread otherwise than in symbolic description, in the physical sense in fact, you have hunger to eat it with.  Therefore, first of all, don’t eat too much: you would lose your appetite for a long time.  And then, let your dinner be preceded by sweat.  ‘In the sweat of your brow you shall eat bread,’ is the first commandment mentioned in the Scriptures [Genesis 3:19].

The Lord’s Prayer speaks of ‘daily’ bread.  In saying that, let us remember that the life in which we ought to be interested is ‘daily’ life.  We can, each of us, only call the present time our own.  Why should we worry ourselves by thinking about the future?

Our Lord tells us to pray for today, and so he prevents us from tormenting ourselves about tomorrow.  It is as if he were to say to us: ‘He who gives you this day will also give you what you need for this day.  He it is who makes the sun to rise.  He it is who scatters the darkness of night and reveals to you the rays of the sun.’

– St. Gregory of Nyssa, On the Lord’s Prayer, 4.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

The mercy of God is beyond description.  While he is offering us a model prayer he is teaching us a way of life whereby we can be pleasing in his sight.

But that is not all.  In this same prayer he gives us an easy method for attracting an indulgent and merciful judgment on our lives.  He gives us the possibility of ourselves mitigating the sentence hanging over us and of compelling him to pardon us.  What else could he do in the face of our generosity when we ask him to forgive us as we have forgiven our neighbor? *

If we are faithful in this prayer, each of us will ask forgiveness for our own failings after we have forgiven the sins of those who have sinned against us.  I mean those who have sinned against us, not only those who have sinned against our Master.

There is, in fact, in some of us a very bad habit.  We treat our sins against God, however appalling, with gentle indulgence: but when by contrast it is a matter of sins against ourselves, albeit very tiny ones, we exact reparation with ruthless severity.

Anyone who has not forgiven from the bottom of his heart the brother or sister who has done him wrong will only obtain from this prayer his own condemnation, rather than any mercy.  It will be his own action that draws a much more severe judgment on himself, seeing that in effect by these words we are asking God to behave as we have behaved ourselves.

– St. John Cassian, Conferences, 9:22

* I wouldn’t take Cassian strictly at face value here and assume that our actions directly determine God’s actions.  He is a sovereign God and cannot be compelled to any action or conclusion by his creation.  What Cassian, I believe, is pointing out, is that in the context of our relationship with God, he has made certain promises to us, and has placed certain expectations upon us, and in that sense (as he goes on to describe) what we forgive has bearing upon what is forgiven of us.

And lead us not into temptation…

The request “Lead us not into temptation’ raises a difficult problem.  If we pray God not to allow us to be tempted, what opportunity shall we have to give him proof of our steadfastness and fidelity?  For it is written: ‘Blessed is the one who endures temptation and overcomes it’ [James 1:12].

Then what is the meaning of this phrase?  It does not mean: do not allow us to come into temptation.  It means: when we come into temptation, let us not be defeated by it.

This assessment may seem like a contradiction with this line of the Lord’s Prayer, but it makes sense when you consider the next and final line, “deliver us from evil.”

Job was tempted but he did not give way to the temptation.  In fact, he did not accuse the divine Wisdom, he did not go down the road of blasphemy to which the Tempter wanted to attract him.  Abraham was tempted, and Joseph was tempted.  But neither one nor the other yielded to the temptation, because neither of them said ‘yes’ to the Tempter.

So praying the Lord’s Prayer is like saying: ‘Together with the temptation, give us also the strength overcome it’ [1 Corinthians 10:13].

– St. John Cassian, Conferences, 9:23.

…but deliver us from evil.

The Lord’s Prayer has an ending which neatly summarizes the different requests.  We say actually at the end: ‘But deliver us from evil,’ understanding by such an expression everything that the Enemy can devise against us in this world.

One certain conviction we have: that God is a powerful support since he grants his help to anyone who asks for it.  Consequently, when we say: “Deliver us from evil,” there is nothing else left for us to ask.  Invoking the protection of God against evil means asking for everything we need.

This prayer secures us against any kind of machination of the devil and of the world.  Who could be afraid of the world if he has God as his protector?

You see, brothers and sisters, how amazing the Lord’s Prayer is.  it is truly a compendium of all the requests we could possibly make.

Our Lord Jesus Christ who came for all people, for the wise as for the ignorant, without distinction of sex or age, reduces the precepts of salvation to the essential minimum.  He wants even the simplest to be able to understand and remember him.

– St. Cyprian of Carthage, On the Lord’s Prayer

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Hæl: Healing & life through Absolution

This post is based on my sermon for this day at Grace Anglican Church.

Christian perfection is an exciting topic, and sometimes controversial. John Wesley wrote a book on the subject that became quite popular. On one hand, this focus on perfect holiness as the Christian’s destiny is a healthy and helpful reminder of where we’re going in life; I spoke about this a bit last week, too. It’s a motivation to get up and get going, to grow, to work, to serve, to be obedient to our glorious King.

But on the other hand the subject of Christian perfection has been mistreated. Some of John Wesley’s followers took this to mean that a Christian can become perfect in this life. The false teaching began to creep in among certain traditions that it is theoretically possible for a person to become so holy that he or she is legitimately unable to pray a confession of sin! For this and several other reasons, the Methodist movement started by the Wesleys ultimately split off from Anglicanism, and eventually broke off into smaller groups such as the Nazarenes, the Salvation Army, and planted seeds for the American Revivalist tradition and, eventually, the Pentecostal movement.

The focus on Christian perfection that these traditions have had is a doubled-edged sword. It is, of course, a good thing to pursue a moral and righteous life, and many great saints of the past have been exemplars of this. But the challenges are also pretty hefty. The false teaching that we become righteous because of our moral efforts is rampant in American Christianity. A lot of extra rules for holiness have entrenched themselves in several traditions: banning alcohol, R-rated movies, boycotting Disney or Starbucks, forbidding dancing. The pursuit of holiness has inspired both great Saints and great weirdos.

So, rather than concluding our series on Christian growth by summarizing a handy list of rules of what you should or should not do in order to become more righteous, the Scriptures ground us in the source and definition of our holiness. The source of our holiness is pretty straight-forward: it is the work of the Holy Spirit within us. His work of making us holy is called sanctification; we are called to participate in that work, but not as the primary workers, but as co-workers under the leadership and power of God the Holy Spirit.


The definition of holiness merits some more attention. As you may know, I studied Old English in my last year in college. I don’t mean Old English in the sense of Shakespeare and the King James Bible; that’s technically early modern English. Old English is the language of Anglo-Saxon England from the 600’s until about 1100. There is a word they had which is very useful for us in understanding holiness. As a noun, that word is hæl; as an adjective the word is hælig. Two modern English words derive from it: holy, and healthy. This association is very important for understanding holiness. ‘Healthy’ describes a good state of being in body and mind. ‘Holy’ describes a good state of being in spirit or soul. Holiness is healthiness for your spiritual life. Now, this may not really change your picture of what holiness looks like, but I think it gets us back to the heart of the matter in a way that cuts out a lot of distractions.

For a picture of what this entails, our Gospel reading has two stories that beautifully depict the giving of hæl. Here in Matthew 9 a ruler’s daughter has died, and Jesus is asked to come do something about it. On the way there he is contacted by a woman with a persistent bleeding disease that has not only left her penniless and ill, but also ceremonially unclean and therefore unable to participate in the worship of God. By no fault of her own, her condition makes her an outcast and separates her from her own people. But when she reaches out to Jesus, she is healed. Her bleeding stops, she is able to be cleansed and return to fellowship with her God and her people after twelve long years. Her healing, therefore, is not just a physical restoration, but a relational restoration as well. In our growth toward Christian perfection, the healing work of the Holy Spirit also restores us in every way.

And then things get serious! Jesus continues on his way and reaches the house of this official to see his dead daughter. And he heals her all the way from death! God’s work on us is not just the curing of our sin-sick souls, not just the restoration of former spiritual and physical health, not just the restoration of a right relationship with God and one another, but a complete and total resurrection from death to life. St. Paul makes it very clear in his writings: we were dead in our sins, and we are raised to new life in Christ. This is an important image of our healing into holiness. After all, a sick person is still alive, still able to do things, and may still recover. But the condition of human sinfulness is beyond that; it is a death. There is no returning from death unless God breathes into us new life. Put another way, there is no possible salvation without the forgiveness of sins. And that brings us to another important topic.


The Collect for this Sunday is a prayer for God to absolve us from our sins so that we may be delivered from the bonds of those sins. Remember the Gospel story’s examples: Jesus both healed a woman who was merely sick and resurrected a woman who was totally dead. Similarly, Christian perfection is about both forgiveness from our sins and absolution from sin’s bonds – its after-effects on our souls. There is an important distinction here which we may not think about very often. What is the difference between ‘forgiveness’ and ‘absolution’?

Forgiveness is the granting of pardon. When we talk about our sins being forgiven, we mean they have been forgotten, ignored, the matter is closed. We can be assured of the forgiveness of sins simply by turning to him with a contrite heart. He has promised to forgive the sins of all who are penitent. You don’t need to do anything to earn that forgiveness, you don’t have to go through any channels to find it; Jesus is readily available for all to approach him. Other Christians can help you approach him if you feel you need help, but he has put no obstacle between you and his forgiveness.

Absolution is a further step along. Where forgiveness deals with our sins themselves, absolution deals with the bonds of sins, or the legacy of sins. To be absolved means to be released, set free, acquitted, brought to completion, finished, paid, discharged. There is a finality to it that ‘forgiveness’ lacks. The way some people talk about forgiveness sometimes makes it sound like God just sweeps our sins under the table and we all just forget about it. The mess is still out there, it just got moved. That’s why we also have the concept of absolution. In absolution, guilt is forever wiped away by God, a juridicial decision has been made, the infinite merits of Jesus are applied to the sinner, resulting a full restoration of hæl – holiness and health in its fullest sense.

One way to picture this is by a chemical reaction: you have a solvent, you add a solute, and the result is a solution. We are the solvent, us sinful human beings. God adds the solute – the merits of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit – and the resulting solution is hæl. We become perfectly holy, restored in relationship, our sins not just hidden but actually gone forever. That is the power of Jesus’ Cross applied to us!

Seeking Absolution & Hæl

This is why in our worship services – both the Daily Office and the Communion service – our prayers of confession are followed not by declarations of forgiveness, but of absolution. We don’t just need forgiveness, we need absolution, the whole deal! And while anyone of us can forgive sins that are committed against us, only God can absolve. If I get frustrated during a long day with the baby, and I snap at my wife when she gets home, she can forgive me for that, and the case between us is closed. But spiritually, the problem still exists – I sinned, and that gives me spiritual baggage. Beyond my wife’s gracious forgiveness, I need God’s absolution to deal with not only the sin of my anger but also the baggage that resulted from it and the hardened heart that produced it in the first place.

In the midst of this, I should point out something very important that we need to keep in mind. Once a sin is absolved, it is as if it has never happened. No guilt remains; it is off the permanent record; the devil can no longer be permitted to accuse you of it. That’s why the content of a private confession is always maintained in absolute secrecy. If God has put your sins away, then how much less do mere human beings have any right to bring them up again? Furthermore, despite the difference between forgiveness and absolution, this is true with forgiveness. If you have forgiven someone of something, you have utterly removed your legal right to hold that sin against that person ever again. Sometimes we make jokes about men and women, and how some people remember your every misdeed, keeping this on a mental list to use against you when you pile too many on. Forgiveness means deleting and erasing that mental list of wrong-doings. And furthermore, holding someone accountable to something that you have already forgiven is itself a sin. Un-forgiveness is a sin; don’t do it.

Now sure, there are extreme cases that challenge this, like with assault or murder. We can forgive someone and still take legal action against them. If you let someone rent something from you, and they destroy it, it is possible both to forgive them and still ask for your legal reparation. Forgiveness means you’ve forsaken your right to take revenge. The baggage of their sin may still need to be dealt with by other means. That’s where absolution comes in; the sin has to be paid for somehow.

Ultimately, our sins are not paid for in earth’s legal courts. If I assault someone and go to prison for it, my time in jail does not atone for that sin. Even if it did somehow earn me forgiveness, I’d still have a criminal record, and lost years of my life serving that time. I would not have hæl. Only in God’s heavenly courtroom can we find real absolution and perfect hæl. He is the Judge afterall, all-knowing, perfectly just, impartial to rich or poor, strong or weak. Now technically, this courtroom isn’t assembled until the end of this age, when Jesus returns and the dead are raised to receive that final judgment. And yet, despite that, we can, even now, hear echoes of that final judgment filtering back to us today. Even though we haven’t gotten to the end of the age ourselves, our God who is beyond time, is applying that work of absolution and hæl in his people throughout history.

This is especially true when we gather to worship, particularly around the altar for Holy Communion. You may recall I or someone else saying before that the Eucharist is sort of a moment out of time, a spiritual meeting between the Last Supper, the Cross, and the present. The same can be said for the Last Judgment. Consider the prayers: “according to the institution of your dearly beloved Son our Savior Jesus Christ, we your humble servants celebrate … the memorial which your Son commanded us to make; remembering his blessed passion and precious death, his mighty resurrection and glorious ascension and his promise to come again: and offering our wholehearted thanks to you for the countless benefits given to us by the same.” The “same” is referring to that list of events from Christ’s death to his return. God’s benefits of absolution and hæl are given to us on account of those events, including his “coming again,” which spiritually happens in every Communion as we receive him sacramentally, and will physically happen in the future when he returns to this world. Our salvation is from the work of Christ, past, present, and future!

Concluding Thoughts

So if you find yourself looking at your life and you feel discouraged by a distinct lack of holiness and spiritual health, take heed to these prayers and the Gospel events that they point us to. Our salvation is not our own doing. Even our holiness is not our own doing. God doesn’t just throw us a bone and then leave it to figure out what to do with it; he is with us every step of the way, and is available to us in various and sundry forms to help: he left us the Bible so we can read about him; he left us the Sacraments so we have tangible forms in which to receive his grace; he left us the Holy Spirit so that he will always dwell in us, and we in him.

Despite our best (and worst) efforts, God promises to complete his work in each and every one of his people, his work of giving us hæl – total healing and holiness in every sense of the word. And finally, once he finishes that work of absolution and healing, then we will be ready to welcome our King and his Kingdom without holding anything back. And so, since today is the Sunday celebrating the promise of Christian perfection, next Sunday is Christ the King Sunday. Let us continue to pursue his promises of absolution and healing, so we can learn more and more to celebrate and welcome our glorious King!

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Calvinism and Arminianism

Oh boy.  Now there’s a title that just screams “controversy!” to most Protestant readers.  It may just improve traffic on my site as people stream in to tell me how wrong I am for choosing one side or the other.

In actual fact, I must admit I am professedly neither Calvinist nor Arminian; most of the theological distinctions that divide them are details of soteriology (theology of salvation) which I have yet to develop firm opinions about.  Furthermore, while I have long known a few committed and informed Calvinists, I’ve only recently come across some committed and informed Arminians.  As a result, I’ve discovered that I’ve been rather ignorant as to (some of) the actual theological positions of Arminians.  Not that I have a ton of time to spend studying these two traditional sparring partners, but something I hope to be able to do, bit by bit, is examine the differences between them more closely and assess where I find myself able to agree, disagree, or take up a third stance.

As an Anglican, and especially as a high-churchman, I have no preconceived sense of loyalty to one side or the other.  My Evangelical seminary education has leaned me slightly in the Calvinist direction, but I never spent much time even there considering closely the distinctions between Calvin and Arminius.  Thus, my aim is to consider Calvinism as if I were a Calvinist, and Arminianism as if I were an Arminian.  Really it’s the only way to understand a debate: treat each side to be correct until one proves convincing over the other, should such a resolution arrive.

Anyway, on to the preliminaries.  How might Calvinism and Arminianism be compared with one another on a very basic level?

I’ve got a friend with this T-Shirt. It’s pretty awesome (and so is my friend who owns it).

Calvinism 101

When divisions in the continental Reformed churches came to a head in 1619 at the Synod of Dort, the Calvinist party put together the acronym TULIP to highlight their particular theological stances as opposed to the Arminians.  While the five points do not exactly summarize what Calvinism is, in sum, they do summarize distinct positions that they hold in contra to the Arminians.

T = Total Depravity.  This is the doctrine that every aspect of the human person is touched by sin, and nothing is spared from its blemish.  One of the big results of this situation is that each of us are entirely unable to save ourselves from the results of our own sin.

U = Unconditional Election.  This is the doctrine that God elects (chooses, predestines) individuals to be saved unconditionally, that is, with no regard to that person’s merits, good works, or even faith.  Faith itself is a gift from God.

L = Limited Atonement.  More frequently called “definite atonement” today, this doctrine is the view that Christ’s atonement on the Cross was made for the people whom God had already elected to save.  The atonement, therefore, is not a potential salvation for everyone, but an actual salvation for all God’s people.

I = Irresistible Grace.  This doctrine sets forth the almighty power of God to save his people despite themselves.  Those whom God elects, and atones for, will and do come to faith; there is no uncertainty: God’s grace will unfailingly bring his people to him.

P = Perseverance of the Saints.  In accordance with the tenor of the previous points, this doctrine sets forth the assurance that those whom God elects and calls will not only come to faith by God’s grace, but will persevere unto the end.  Once saved, always saved, because the Father decreed so in the beginning, Christ effectually worked it on the Cross, and the Holy Spirit successfully applied it to the believer.

As with most theological camps, there is some wiggle room even with this simple five-point summary.  The most frequently-debated point here among Calvinists, as I understand it, is the middle one – Limited/Definite Atonement.  The mainstream affirm it, but there seems to be an acceptable range of deviation from that stance.

Arminianism 101

In recent times, Evangelical Arminians have put together an acronym TAFCS (or “FACTS” rearranged) as a sort of reply or rebuttal to the Calvinist TULIP.

T = Total Depravity.  Despite frequent misunderstandings, Arminians are not Pelagians on this point; they agree heartily with the Calvinist view that we are entirely tainted by sin and unable to bring ourselves to salvation.  The initiative of God is required.

A = Atonement for All.  This is the doctrine that Christ’s atonement on the Cross for everyone in the entire world; He even died for the sins of people who don’t believe.  So, rather than the atonement being limited in scope and unlimited in effectiveness (as the Calvinists say), the atonement is unlimited in scope and limited in effectiveness.

F = Freed by Grace to Believe.  Sometimes called the doctrine of “prevenient grace,” this is the belief that God, in His sovereignty, frees the will of sinners to become able to come to faith, and thus come to salvation.  Due to the situation of Total Depravity, this is a necessary work of God, taking the first step to allow and enable us to put our faith in Christ.

C = Conditional Election.  This is the doctrine that God elects (or predestines) people to salvation on the condition of their having faith.  Classically, this means that everyone who is saved was individually predestined to salvation (just like in Calvinism), on the basis of God’s foreknowledge of who would come to faith in Christ (unlike Calvinism’s unconditional fore-decision of God).  A more recent variant of Arminian thought, though, has taken a more corporate view of this, saying that Christ is the predestined one, and anyone who comes into union with him (by faith) shares in that election unto salvation.

S = Security in Christ.  This is the doctrine that a believer’s salvation is secure as long as they remain “in Christ.”  Historically, Arminians have believed that a true Christian can forsake the faith and thus lose this security in Christ, though some believe that the Holy Spirit guarantees security in Christ (much like the Calvinist position of the Perseverance of the Saints).

Initial Summary

So where do we stand?  I have found a chart comparing these points which seems like an accurate summary to me.  As for my own thoughts, here’s how they seem to line up thus far:

  • Both have the same starting point; the human person is entirely incapable of attaining unto salvation without a divine intervention of grace.
  • For the Arminian, that divine intervention is the gracious work of God enabling (certain?) people to come to faith in Christ and thus meet the conditions required to enter into salvation.  For the Calvinist, that divine intervention is the decree of God in eternity past of whom he will save.
  • Another way of putting this is that for the Arminian, faith leads to regeneration, while for the Calvinist, regeneration leads to faith.
  • The concept of having “saving faith” thus is understood differently by each side.  Calvinists see “saving faith” as a gift given by God; Arminians see “saving faith” as a gift enabled by God.
  • Who makes our salvation happen?  To the Calvinist it is monergistic (that is, there is only one worker: God).  The Father elects, the Son atones, and the Spirit sanctifies.  Our faith is a passive necessary factor in the whole process.  To the Arminian salvation is somewhat synergistic (that is, God and man work together).  God does the primary work of providing the grace, and man does the secondary instrumental work of accepting God’s grace.
  • The Atonement made by Christ on the Cross is understood differently.  To the Calvinist it’s God the Son’s part of the Trinitarian work of salvation.  To the Arminian it is God’s offer to everyone that salvation is (now) available.
  • Calvinists believe that salvation cannot be “lost” by a believer, because if he has been truly called, he has been atoned for and the Spirit will preserve his faith.  Some Arminians agree that the Spirit will preserve those who come to faith in Christ, though most believe that Christians have the freedom to un-accept Christ just as God gave us the freedom to to accept Christ in the first place.

My general impressions are that Calvinism is a more tight-knit theological system with better coherency and consistency throughout.  Yet, there are aspects of it that seem to make God’s will painfully arbitrary, requiring the believer to resort to appeals to God’s wisdom and mercy that He would deign to save any unworthy sinner.  Arminianism, meanwhile, seems a little “scarier” in the sense that we have to accept Christ and not later reject Him.  At the same time, though, it appears to do better justice to the many Scriptural calls to believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ.  And, by my limited understanding of the Church Fathers’ views on free will, Arminianism seems to line up better with its doctrine “Freed to Believe” (prevenient-yet-resistible grace).

So both sides certainly have their attractions and their issues.  This may well prove to be a very interesting journey!

By the way, good readers, I know that many of you have studied these details more attentively than I.  If you think I am misrepresenting one side or another, please pitch in; this isn’t a journey I can make by myself.

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Veteran’s Day (remembrance day)

Separated by ten days, the Church’s feast of All Saints (Nov. 1st) and the State’s holiday of Veteran’s Day (Nov. 11th) have a lot in common.  Both are opportunities in the course of otherwise-ordinary life when our community at large is directed to look at a particular group of people in our midst, past and present.  As the Saints of the Church are the great heroes of the faith forming a “great cloud of witnesses” that encourage us to “run the race with endurance” and, ultimately, look to Jesus as the example of examples, so too in Veteran’s Day do we look at those heroes of our nation’s memory and cause.

We cannot conflate the Saints of the Church and the Veterans of the Nation as if they were synonymous groups; we separately render unto God what is God’s and unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.  But we can rightly celebrate and honor those who put their lives on the line serving this country.  Historically, in the case of November 11th specifically, the original remembrance was the sacrifices many made fighting in the Great War (WW1), which was supposed to be the war to end all wars.  And so, though sadly many wars have followed that dark decade, we still cling to that original ideal and hope: that wars may finally cease and that no more new veterans will need to be added to the lists.  It is similar with the Saints of the Church, particularly the martyrs: we hope and yearn for that day when no more Christian lives need to be given over to martyrdom.

In our relatively prosperous times, it has gotten easier to be cynical about the wars that we fight.  Especially since the involvement of TV reporting in the Vietnam era, popular support for wars and our veterans has waned.  How can we honor people who were engaged in a cause we might not accept as just?  This is where, to some extent, the analogy between All Saints’ Day and Veteran’s Day begins to break down: Christian martyrs died for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and even the most just of earthly wars will never be as pure and holy as the Gospel.

Yet we are commanded in Scripture to give honor to whom honor is due, and we are taught in Scripture that we are to pray for government leaders and to be loyal to our earthly homeland.  We don’t always necessarily agree with every action taken, decision made, or war waged, but as Christians we are bound by the rule of love to honor those who have sacrificed themselves for us and for our society; and one of the primary ways we do that is by mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice – in this case, honoring our veterans who have come home with memories the majority of us will likely never fully understand.

The Church of England has assembled, from various verses of Scripture, a short anthem in commemoration of Remembrance Day, November 11th (source link, scroll to page 575).

God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.
I lift up my eyes to the hills – from whence will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning.
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary they shall walk and not faint.
What does the Lord require of you but to do justice,
and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

(Psalm 46:1, Psalm 121:1-2, Lamentations 3:21-23, Isaiah 40:31, Micah 6:8)

In these verses we are drawn to fix our eyes upon God.  He is the protector, the helper, faithful to His covenant, filled with love for His people, merciful, giver of strength, the resurrection and the life.  In response we are to live like him – justly, kindly, humbly.

In a way this is both an affirmation and a rebuke for a day like today.  It affirms the rightness of honoring our veterans – those who have served as protectors, who have been faithful to the call of their earthly homeland, who have faced the reality of death, and have (figuratively) been restored to life in their returning home again.  It is right and good to acknowledge these men and women who have showed us one of the most dramatic pictures of obedience and humility (not to mention courage!) we will ever see.  And, besides this, the soldier is one of the very few occupations used in the Bible as an analogy of the Christian life.

At the same time, these verses provide something of a rebuke: we are to live justly, kindly, and humbly – the very fact that we have wars is a fact to our shame.  We are called to dwell in unity, to be at peace with one another, and the fact that wars happen (justly or unjustly) is a dramatic picture of the reality of sin and brokenness that is rampant in the world ever since the first sin of Adam & Eve.

So let this day be one of solemnity, in several directions.

First, that we honor, respect, and thank the veterans in our midst.  As with the Saints of the Church, we should always be showing due veneration; this day is simply a communal moment to remind and reorient ourselves to the continual giving of this honor, respect, and thanks.

Second, let us remember the sacrifice that is involved in the creation and maintenance of a community (country or otherwise).  We are all called to sacrifice, to participation in our common “fabric of the world” in one way or another; as the modern proverb goes, “all gave some, some gave all.”

Third, and finally, let this day be a solemn reminder of our universal need for repentance and reconciliation.  All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; the reality of having veterans and warfare is a stark reminder that this world is not yet what it is to be.  There is a city to come, not made with human hands, that heavenly Jerusalem which God calls home, and so, as God’s people, shall we.

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