The Ultimate Issue

The ultimate issue in relation to Jesus Christ is not one of semantics (the meaning of words) but of homage (the attitude of the heart), not whether our tongue can subscribe to an orthodox formulation of the person of Jesus, but whether our knee has bowed before his majesty. Besides, reverence always precedes understanding. We shall know him only if we are willing to obey him.

—Dr. John R.W. Stott, The Authentic Jesus 24.

From the Morning Scriptures

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 7:15-(8:1) (TNIV)

Today Paul captures the plight of the human condition so very poignantly. He describes his utter inability to rid himself entirely of his body of sin that weighs him down and brings God’s condemnation on him. He wants to do better, bless his heart, but finds that he cannot. No wonder he calls himself “wretched.”

Of course, if Paul glossed over the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes or mistakenly believed that our good actions can counterbalance the bad we have done, or if Paul was not interested in having a life-giving relationship with God in which he shows his love for God by always trying to do what he knows is pleasing to God, then this passage would not make sense at all.

But this wasn’t Paul. Paul knew the gravity of sin and its terrible, eternal consequences. He loved Christ who had claimed him on the road to Damascus and wanted to please him more than anything else in life. Yet here Paul is, acknowledging that he is incapable of doing this on his own because he is weighed down by his body of sin. This is the human condition and this is why we need a Savior.

Thankfully Paul offers us a solution to his plight and ours. Who will rescue us from the consequences of our sin? God has done so in Jesus Christ! Thanks be to God! While the last verse (Romans 8:1) is not part of today’s lesson, I have included it today because it is the logical conclusion to the Good News of Jesus Christ that Paul talks about in v. 25a. God has rescued us from death and for those of us who are in Christ, we no longer have to worry about being condemned to eternal death because of our sins.

No wonder those who truly grasp both the terrible plight of the human condition—their own plight—as well as the God’s solution for us in Christ, are freed to joyfully obey our Lord and his commandments. They want to obey all of God’s commands because they know they have been given a gift of immense proportions and they also know they have God’s very Spirit living in them to help them overcome the sin that binds us so tightly.

This is called faith in action, love made manifest. This is what the NT writers mean when they talk about being justified [declared not guilty in God's eyes] by grace through faith. This is what a “saving faith” looks like—joyful obedience to the Lord out of a profound gratitude and thanksgiving for all he has done for us in Christ. How is your faith working for you?

Why Is the Church So Sad?

Why is the Church so sad? Why is the priesthood so boring that it even has to ask itself the nature of its identity and reasons for its existence? There is only one reply. In practice—not in theory—”They have forsaken Me, the source of living waters; they have dug themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Oh return to Me—the prophet would say—and put me to the test: Shall I not open for you the floodgates of heaven to pour down blessing on you without measure? You will live in my love if you keep my commandments. Leave your idols, which cannot help you. Do not believe in the strength of money, do not rely on the powerful. Rely on Me, who am God.

Do not begin the day by reading the newspaper; that will make you slaves of public opinion, even though involuntarily. Rather, begin your daily labors waiting for the dawn in prayer, as the Psalm suggests to you: “Awake, O my soul; awake, lyre and harp; I will wake the dawn” (Psalm 108:3). All those who have signed the story of my presence in the world have done so. “Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest” (Matthew 11:28-29).

—Carlo Carretto, The God Who Comes

Not all of the Church is sad, of course, but to focus on this misses Carretto’s main point. We are easily distracted and when we let our distractions have top priority in our lives we will necessarily become impoverished, even the Church. All we have to do is to look around to see the truth in Carretto’s statement. I’m thinking of the Episcopal Church in general and of those individuals who have let their distractions or other agendas replace God as their first priority in their lives. There we generally see decay, decline, and death.

On the other hand, when we see those parts of the Church and those individuals keep God as the main thing and focus in their lives, we see growth, health, life, and vitality. We’ve always had a choice. Choose life. Choose Christ.

Only the Trinity Knows Itself

For only the divine nature of the Trinity comprehends itself. Only the Father knows his own Son, the fruit of his own substance. Only the divine Son recognizes the One by whom he has been begotten. Only the Holy Spirit knows the deep things of God, the thought of the Father and the Son.

—Cyril of Alexandria, Fragment 14.8

A Prayer of Longing

In your mercy, Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” So speak that I may hear you. The ears of my heart are turned to you, Lord; open them  and say to my soul: “I am your salvation.” I will run after your voice, and I will lay hold of you. Do not hide your face from me. Let me see your face even if I die, for if I see it not, I shall die of longing. Amen.

—Augustine

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Sts. Peter and Paul

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

From the Morning Scriptures

[Jesus asked] “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’ ” ‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go. “Which of the two did what his father wanted?” “The first,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you to show you the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. And even after you saw this, you did not repent and believe him.

—Matthew 21:28-32 (TNIV)

Here we see Jesus cut to the chase regarding the nature of discipleship. We show our faithfulness to Christ by our actions more than by our words. In a world that is increasingly hostile to Christianity, especially here in the West, it is especially important for those of us who call ourselves Christian to let our actions speak about what we believe. Otherwise, the enemies of the cross will be quickly jump on us with the charge of hypocrisy. But when our actions are consistent with our professed beliefs, we will be beacons of Christ’s light that will irresistibly attract others to him.

This, of course, means that we must bear the fruit of the Spirit, with his abiding help. This is faith made manifest and we must assent to the Spirit working in us. We must do our part to be bearers of the Good News to a world that desperately needs to hear it, even when it thinks it doesn’t.

Are you ready to be that bearer? If you are, go forth with confidence, realizing that you have God’s very Spirit working in you to help you in your work. This doesn’t mean you will be mistake-free; rather, it means that you will be equipped to do the work our Lord calls you to do and that is always sufficient for the moment.

Augustine Comments on Sts. Peter and Paul

These martyrs [Peter and Paul] realized what they taught: they pursued justice, they confessed the truth, they died for it. Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching and their confession of faith.

Sermon 295

The Nature of Prayer

For too long we have thought of the Christian life as essentially either involvement in political, economic, or social concerns that wear us out and result in depression or activity which keeps the church intact and doctrinally pure. Our primary orientation cannot be an institution or some great cause or even other people, but first and forever to God. Unless our identity is hid in God we will never know who we are or what we are to do. Our first act must be prayer, Oratio. To be human is to pray, to meditate both day and night on the love and activity of God. We are called to be continuously formed and transformed by the thought of God within us. Prayer is a disciplined dedication of paying attention. Without the singleminded attentiveness of prayer we will rarely hear anything worth repeating or catch a vision worth asking anyone else to gaze upon.

—John Westerhoff III and John Eusden, The Spiritual Life

More Deserving of Mercy Than Punishment

Paul did not say “bad” or “evil man” [in Romans 7:13-25] but rather “wretched man.” For having shown that this person contemplated the good with his mind but was drawn toward evil by the passion of the flesh, [Paul] presents him as more deserving of mercy than of punishment.

—Gennadius of Constantinople, Pauline Commentary from the Greek Church