But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
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St. Luke 7:11-17
October 5, 2014
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
“He Had Compassion”
Jesus -- and the multitude with Him -- approached the city gate of Nain. And lo and behold, a funeral procession came toward them. In the long, shallow wicker basket they carried could be seen the rigid body of a young man. He was carefully wrapped in a linen shroud, as was the funeral custom of the day.
He was carried by his friends and relatives. They would take turns supporting the load so that everyone had an opportunity to participate in a work of love for one who had been so near and dear.
Behind the bearers came the musicians and the mourners, with their loud lamentations set to music. In front of the deceased came women. And amongst the women, our Lord instantly spotted the widowed mother, whose only remaining treasure on this earth had just been taken from her. Behind this sad formation were the many long-faced people of the town, who had come to bury one of “their own” who had died in “his prime.”
When Christ saw this mother’s weak and sobbing frame buckling under the weight of her double grief – first her husband, and now her son – we are told that compassion swelled in His soul. The presence of death called forth His comforting power and He carefully approached her. To her He spoke, and only to her He spoke, words of comfort – Weep not. In the vernacular, we would have heard Him say, “Do not cry.” Then we are told that He touched the frame and the bearers stopped their solemn march and the musicians their dirge. So, too, did the mourners and the crowd – in fact, the entire entourage. And in utter silence all eyes focused on the Great Physician.
The Lord of Life spoke seven simple words: Young man, I say unto thee, Arise. And he sat up! Here is a marvelous sight for the sons of Adam and for the daughters of Eve – for all of us – to behold and remember! Our Lord and His disciples should have, according to tradition, reverently joined the procession. But instead, they stopped it! They halted it. They reversed it! Life Incarnate met face-to-face the sting of death! A word of grace from our Lord entered the chambers of death and echoed inside, then out flowed the irresistible tide of life – vibrant, energetic… irrepressible life! And he that was dead, we are told, began to speak!
Can you picture the amazement… the astonishment… the bewilderment that must have washed over the crowd? St. Luke simply records for our benefit, And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people. This was the greatest compliment they could offer based upon their skimpy portfolio of knowledge and praise.
This event stands alone amongst our Lord’s miracles. Like a gem, we are instantly drawn to it through the deep radiance of its simplicity. This narrative made up of only seven verses paints a wonderful picture ofcompassion. And not just a pattern of human compassion, but divine compassion – the profound compassion that belongs to God!
No appeal was made to Jesus to return this young man from the dead. No appeal came from his bereaved mother. No appeal was brought forth by any of his neighbors. No appeal was spoken by any of his friends who stood by. No appeal from the Twelve! His Own compassion moved Him!
Many of Christ’s miracles are instructive because they reflect the faith of those who came to Him soliciting help. He approved the faith of the Roman centurion, for example, and of the Syrophonician woman – and gave them that for which they asked. He tested the faith of others.
But there is no trial of this dear, poor woman. There is no “proving” of her faith. Nothing at all is required of her. Not a single word… even a single syllable is spoken on her part. Weep not, He says, then touches the humble basket and bids the young man arise! What we behold here is a rare deed – a miracle – of pure compassion.
And it reminds us once more of what we so easily forget. Jesus tells us His yoke is easy and His burden is light! His care and concern for us are very real! And though we tend to doubt this, it nevertheless extends to every grieving parent, every despondent adult, young person, child – to every hurting member of His Family. And it extends also to the lost! For it was over Jerusalem, you may recall, that He did weep.
The word compassion is a compound word which literally means to “suffer with.” The Greek word employed by St. Luke adds the idea of internalized suffering – suffering (or commiserating) with someone else in our inward being. This is from whence we derive the phrase “tender-hearted.” Christians are called to be tender-hearted as was our Lord and Savior – and not to harden our hearts toward the real needs of others.
What do you suppose ever happened to this young man – brought back from the dead by Jesus Christ?
The Bible does not tell us because the Gospel accounts conclude shortly thereafter with the Great Commission and the Ascension of our Lord. But fortunately for us, Church History sheds light on the matter!
His name is revealed according to Church Tradition as Maternus (Latin for “maternal”… or perhaps “belonging to my mother.” And we discover him among the wave of missionaries who found their way to the British Isles along with Joseph of Arimathea and the Apostles Simon Zelotes and Philip!
St. Gildas the Wise, British monk and historian whose years were AD 500-570, informs us the Church in Britain was born in AD 37! Four years after our Lord’s Ascension! And Maternus was there!
By AD 50, Maternus had become the first bishop of Treves in Gaul – known today as Trier in modern day in Germany!
When he was succeeded in Treves by a capable bishop named Eucharius, he immediately travelled 85-miles north taking the Gospel with him into modern-day Belgium – becoming the first bishop of Tongres where he was martyred as an old man in AD 96 at the hands of the Tongri!
The relics of St. Maternus to this day are kept in the Dom (or cathedral) at Trier.
Maternus had been “born again” (quite literally) through the compassion of Christ – and therefore in the same manner showed his compassion to as many as he could in his lifetime – all the way to Belgium!
Once we are given to understand that compassion was the way of our Lord – and remains the way of His people today – it leads to a most unique and powerful worldview that overcomes evil with good!
It was John Donne, 17th-century Anglican priest and poet, who had great insight into this matter. He pointed out that no man can really be an island to himself, for we all share the same humanity for whom our Lord had such great compassion. So he counselled in his day that when someone died and the church bell rang, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” We all share the suffering because of our compassion for mankind!
We might do well to frequently ask ourselves a question… How much are our lives marked by compassion? For one another? For neighbors? For mankind? The pattern of our Lord sets the standard! We are told that “He had compassion.” And if he has compassion for us… so should we for one another.
So it was in the beginning… so has it always been… and so shall it ever be. World without end. Amen.
St. Matthew 6:24-34
September 28, 2014
“No Man Can Serve Two Masters”
The lesson before us this morning is from our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount – the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest Preacher Who ever walked this earth! It has been called “Christ’s Manifesto” – and for good reason. A manifesto is a public declaration of intentions, motives, and views.
And this is precisely what we find. In fact, we discover the very heart of His manifesto! No man can serve two masters, He states, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. In an age which seeks the equal handling – parity -- of all worldviews, this is quite an exclusive claim set forth by Jesus Christ! In the First Commandment we recited together this morning, God reminds us:Thou shalt have none other gods but me.
So God, the Father, in the Old Testament and God, the Son, in the New Testament require of Christians the very same emotional focus, the very same dedication, the very same commitment and the very same loyaltythat transcend all others. No man can serve two masters. For we have but one Master – one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, Who is above all and through all and in us all. No man can serve two masters.
This is actually a fundamental principle – a maxim – of life. Anything worth accomplishing requires attention and dedication. The saying most of us grew up with reminds us: Whatever you do, do with all of your might! Things done in halves are never done right!
There are always, of course, those who want to eat their cake – and have it, too. But this is not possible! It must be one or the other. Those who speak out of both sides of their mouths are called “equivocators.” Those who profess one thing, but do the opposite, are called hypocrites. Those who try to walk on both sides of a ditch – straddling an opening chasm – soon do the “splits” and fall in. No man can serve two masters.
We might hasten to add that in the case of two parents training their children – they must not present themselves as two different and opposing “masters.” For which then are the children to obey? Dear parents – the Scriptures call upon you to be “one flesh” and for good reason. You are to speak as one voice, one mind, one heart. A child must not be called upon to serve two masters. It cannot be done!
And at the end of this morning’s lesson, Jesus ties down the issue. What He began generically when He underscored the impossibility of serving two masters at the same time is concluded with the invitation – indeed, the command – to seek the kingdom of God – the rule of God in our lives, the establishment of His righteousness in the spheres over which we have been given control.
Jesus employs the Greek term πρωτον – “first in time, first in order, first inrank.” To seek first the kingdom of God therefore requires a special focus… a moral concentration… wholehearted attention, the “single eye” – and blindness and deafness to distractions.
One of the great runners of all time was surely Bobby Morrow, the tall Texan sprinter with a nine-foot stride! That’s right! And though his name is disappearing from our memories, in the 1956 Olympics he distinguished himself by winning three gold medals. He outran all others in the 100-meter dash, the 200-meter race and was on the American relay team that won the 400-meter competition. What was the reason for his phenomenal success? It was not his natural ability. He claimed it was his mental focusand his determination and self-control. His was the advantage of mind-over-matter!
Some – indeed, many – basic skills of life require full and undivided, singular attention. Threading a needle. Counting coins. Keeping track of the ingredients in a recipe. Opening a safe. Finding and pulling a sliver. Writing a sentence with good handwriting.
There are also many grave matters of life and death which also require full and undivided attention! Many who grew up in the Midwest where winters can be deadly, understand that focus is often mandatory. In the midst of a blizzard, animals in the barn still need to be taken care of. To get from the house to the barn, a rope – a “lifeline” – was strung to guide a person safely there and back again in the midst of high winds and driving, blinding snow. If you let go of the lifeline, you might never find it again. So you concentrated. If you stubbed your foot on something, you did not let go in order to find out what it was. Your top and singular priority was to get to the barn safely! And then to return once again safely to the warmth of the house. A person who became lost in such storms would freeze to death in short order.
In the very same way, we must give focus and attention to following Jesus Christ as Savior and as Lord! It is all too easy to lose our way! Studied resolve and focused intensity are surely required. Jesus tells us that there will be many distractions and opportunities to be deflected from our course.
The story is told of a circuit judge who was once plagued by an annoying lawyer in a small town. The particular lawyer was an individual of limitless conceit and self-importance. He felt he knew the law better than the man in robes at the bench, and he missed no opportunity to criticize the judge’s knowledge and leadership. But the patient judge never seemed to even notice the lawyer’s abrasive manner. On one occasion, after the lawyer had shown particular disrespect, one of the judge’s friends asked him at dinner why he put up with such rudeness. Why do you not just “put him back in his place,” he asked. The judge calmly replied, “In my home town, there lives a widow who owns a hound dog. And every night, that dog barks incessantly at the moon.” The judge then quietly went back to eating. His friend paused, then replied quizzically, “What is your point? Why the story about the hound dog barking at the moon?” The judge looked up with a wise and knowing gaze and said, “The moon keeps on shining!”
The greater our commitment to God… the more enduring our dedication to His decency and righteousness and justice, the more loudly will distractions – like the hound dog, of old – howl and bark! The greater our commitment to God’s truth, the more loudly will His detractors, like Professor Stephen W. Hawking -- theoretical physicist at Cambridge University who maintains there is no God and that the universe formed itself – like the hound dog, of old, howl and bark! Like the judge, it is ourwisdom and to our credit to calmly remain unperturbed. Do not answer a fool according to his folly, we are told in the Book of Proverbs, lest we be like unto him. Our responses are to be reasonable – not just emotional. And St. Peter adds that they are to be given in meekness and in fear. Picture our Lord calmly performing His business in the Temple precincts as His detractors reviled Him! Hold steady the course. Maintain your bearings. And like the moon, keep shining!
No man can serve two masters. We have been called to serve One -- the very One Whom mankind seeks to eradicate. Let us not blur the line between the two! For it is our greatest privilege… our highest honor… to seek first in time, order, and rank… His Kingdom and His righteousness!
So it was in the beginning, so has it always been, and so shall it ever be – world without end.
St. Matthew 9:9-13
St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
September 21, 2014
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
The first mention of St. Matthew in the Bible finds him sitting “at the receipt of custom.” What was this “receipt of custom?” The “receipt of custom” was a tax collection office. You see, he was a publican – a tax collector! His office was located on the main highway that ran from
His task was to collect “toll fees” from both local merchants and farmers carrying their goods to market, as well as from distant caravans passing through Galilee. Levi knew the value of goods of all description – wool, flax, linen, lumber, parchment, pottery, precious metals, precious stones, and a variety of food staples such as barley, figs, and wheat. He was knowledgeable of local and foreign currencies. He spoke the local Aramaic language as well as Greek and Hebrew, and most likely Latin. And we can only imagine the long-hand accounting skills that would be required in this line of work!
Quite an individual, but he worked for wicked Herod Antipas – the same ruler who beheaded John the Baptist! Levi was known as a “Quisling,” or collaborator, for he cooperated with Imperial Rome that had gained jurisdiction over the Holy Land and pressed its hobnailed heel down hard on the citizens of what had once been termed the “land of milk and honey.”
But what made him hated by his fellow men most of all was the fact that he was an “insider” in an occupation rife with corruption and graft. You see, in order to gain his position, he paid a “lease” for the “privilege” of collecting these toll funds. Since he had paid the annual fee in advance, he was accused of adding his own “transaction fee” on the public in order to pay back the lease – and more -- to grow wealthy on the “profits.” Thus he was detested with extreme disgust by the burden bearers of the land who lived under the iron fist of Herod Antipas who was in league with Rome. St. Matthew (formerly Levi) was seen as a member of the lowest caste of humans imaginable!
Zacchaeus, you may recall, was also a tax collector, a chief tax collector. And when he became a Christian, he made restitution by returning the funds he had dishonestly acquired.
Levi was a true worldling – pursuing the attractions held in common by the other worldlings of his day. Did he engage in gross materialism and corruption and fraud along with the others? We are not told. But this we do know – it required a great deal of ambition and greed for any Jew to willingly become an associate of Herod Antipas and a “front man” for Rome by doing their dirty work!
But all this changed when he met Christ! Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new. As indicated in our lesson this morning, the call to salvation in Christ and to Christian service was brought to him by the Son of God Himself. He had undoubtedly heard Jesus teach the people of that area. And as a seed that had been planted in his heart, over time it began the process of germination. And when the day came that our Lord addressed him with the command, “Follow Me,” we are told that Levi arose and walked away from his tax collection office and followed the Lord – not to return.
What a transformation had begun in the life of this dear man! It was so momentous… so meaningful… so significant, that he changed his name! Matthew, which means “the gift of Yahweh.” No longer was he known as Levi, the tax collector, but as Matthew, the one who had received salvation from the Almighty and a call to His service!
It is noteworthy that St. Matthew never once refers to himself as “Levi” in the Gospel bearing his name – though the evangelists, St. Mark and St. Luke do! He wanted nothing to do with that life which he had left behind! What a wonderful picture of repentance!
To follow Christ is a one-way street – it only moves forward, not backward! The words “Follow Me” are some of Christ’s favorite words in the Bible. Even St. Paul underscored them when he wrote to the Corinthians saying: Follow me as I follow Christ! And to you and to me, the Lord says, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me… He that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me.
We tend to forget what came of St. Matthew, once he placed his head andheart and soul and spirit on the path of following Christ!
He – along with the other Apostles – awaited the coming of the Holy Ghost. And when the Holy Spirit was finally poured out upon them, they began to enthusiastically follow the instructions which the Master had given them – to bear witness to Him first in Jerusalem, and then in Judaea, and then in Samaria, and then, finally, to the uttermost parts of the world!
According to tradition, St. Matthew remained in the
Finally, encouraged by the reports of success among the Jews and Gentiles in faraway lands, he went forth on several missionary journeys of his own.
There are too many references in the traditions and legends surrounding this Apostle and Evangelist regarding his ministry to kings and other high government officials for us to ignore the possibility that his unmistakable literacy and former savvy as an inside member of officialdom may well have fitted him for presenting the Gospel to those in high places. Only one other of the Twelve served both as apostle and evangelist – and that was St. John!
It is certain that the Apostle Matthew did indeed take the Gospel to Persia. According to tradition, he also took the Gospel to Ethiopia, in Africa. It is probable that his martyrdom came about on his return journey from Ethiopia through Egypt.
What is certain, however, is that St. Matthew was a gifted writer, an ardent Apostle of our Lord, and perhaps the best educated of all of the Twelve! He was thus well equipped to carry Christ to the needy of this world who occupy places of authority and he was a vessel well chosen to compose his version of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We must always remember, when looking at the life of St. Matthew, that in many regards – indeed, in most regards – we are looking at ourselves. For we are also “saints” who have heard the command of the Lord: “Follow Me.” He did not say, “Follow men.” He did not say, “Follow what men say about Me!” He said, “Follow me!”
To follow Him is a most noble call! Remember the example of St. Matthew!
St. Luke 10:23-37
September 14, 2014
“What is Written in the Law?”
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of our Lord’s best known teaching illustrations.
It grew out of a discussion between our Lord and an expert in Old Testament Law. We are told this expert stood up in order to “test” Jesus. “Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the law?” Christ calmly replied. “How do you read it?”
The expert quoted the two great commandments which we recite each Sunday morning as part of our worship: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” “Thou hast answered right,” replied Christ. “This do, and thou shalt live.”
Attempting to justify his lack of compliance, he replied, ”And who is my neighbor?”
“A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,” Jesus began. And there was, indeed, such a road in His day – and notoriously dangerous. It was steep, it was narrow, it was rocky, it was twisting… marked by sharp turns and hiding places perfectly suited for bandits to perform their malicious deeds.
No one who knew the area would dare travel this road by themselves. But for whatever reason, the traveler in the parable did. And he paid a dear price for it! Bandits attacked him. They took his valuables. His clothes. They almost took his life. They were not just petty thieves; they were men of violence for we are told they beat him severely. Then they departed, leaving him half dead!
A certain priest happened to pass by. And seeing him, he moved to the other side of the road and disappeared into the distance. To help him would require touching him. And if he were already dead, by touching him he would become ceremonially unclean for seven days. This would be a major disruption to his plans and schedule.
Likewise, a certain Levite – entrusted with the education of God’s people and their worship – happened to pass by. He actually moved closer than did the priest in an effort to get a better look at the figure in the dirt. But he remembered that such situations were often elaborate traps -- so he immediately moved to the other side of the road and quickly hurried away.
The sun beat down upon the traveler as he was dying – when lo and behold, a Samaritan approached.
Who were the Samaritans? They were hated because they were “different.” Seven hundred years earlier the Assyrians captured them and forced intermarriage with other subjugated peoples in order to break down national identities. As a result they had no particular ethnic association. And they were hated!
When the Samaritan saw the dying man in the dirt, it says that compassion swelled up in his heart and he immediately went to him to render aid. As is so often the case, those who have felt their own pain are the first to feel the pain of others!
He put into practice all of the extensive knowledge he possessed -- immediately sterilizing the wounds by pouring in wine (which is 12% alcohol). Then he carefully applied cloth soaked in olive oil to close the wounds and stop the bleeding -- and protect the damaged tissue.
He did not stop there. He placed the patient upon his own beast of burden and walked by his side until together they reached the safety of an inn. There, he personally nursed him through the night. And on the next morning, he left two pure silver Roman coins -- equivalent in our day to a couple of hundred dollars. He even made arrangements in the event the traveler needed further care.
“Which of these three,” Jesus asked the lawyer, “was neighbor to him that fell among the thieves?” He answered, “He that showed mercy.” Jesus then said unto him, “Go, and do thou likewise.”
From the day this parable was first recorded, Bible students and scholars have understood it to be much more than just a simple illustration. It has been cherished as one of the most exquisite and priceless allegories we possess from our Lord regarding life itself.
The traveler thus represents our first father, Adam – and in Adam, all of mankind. Jerusalem represents the Garden of Eden or Paradise, from which lofty state man fell. Jericho is an image of this world, into which mankind was cast out of the Garden – moral lowlands, if you will.
The bandits represent the devil and his minions who specialize in stripping men and women, children and young people of their garments of innocence and clothing of dignity and vestments of grace. They are ruthless in their infliction of mortal wounds.
The priest represents the Law, which though the truthful representation of God’s Will, is nevertheless powerless to help. The Levite represents the prophets of old, who though they had remarkable vision, were once again powerless in and of themselves to bring healing and restoration.
The Samaritan is a picture of Jesus Christ who entered this earth only to be hated. Had He not come to our aid, mankind would surely have perished in a God-forsaken land by the wounds of sin. The wine and oil represent Christ’s Sacraments which He uses to this very day to bring healing and renewal – that we might avoid the pain of final death.
The inn is a picture of Christ’s Church. The innkeeper represents His ministers, who through Holy Orders are given the management of His Household. The “next day” represents the Ascension. And the Samaritan’s promised return is a picture of the Second Coming. The two denarii placed in the trust of the innkeeper represent the Old and New Testaments which reveal in them the Image of the Eternal King.
The parable is so powerful it has the unintended effect of overshadowing the original dialogue which brought it forth in the first place. The dialogue has its own important lessons for us as well -- and one observation in particular clamors for our attention this morning.
It is the response of our Lord to the lawyer when he dropped his “loaded question” on Christ in public in order to test Him. Hear our Lord’s wise reply made up of only six words:
What is written in the law?
Oh, that you and I possessed this divine instinct of our Lord when put in a bind!
What is written in the law?
He did not reply, “What do you think?” or “What do you feel?”
He resisted the opinions of the scribes, the Sadducees, the Pharisees, of Annas, of Caiaphas, or even of the Sanhedrin!
He knew full well there was another command word over and above them serving as their judge! So He effortlessly replied with the wise words:
What is written in the law?
As the Son of God, the Word Incarnate, he could have said, “I tell you…” but He resisted! He remembered the supreme arbiter, the Word of His Father! And so He replied that day – and for all time:
What is written in the law?
Something most remarkable that is not evident in the English, but definitely in the Greek has to do with the order of the words making up His reply. Literally, He said: